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Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

Q: I have two sons, one is 5 years old and one is 8. Sometimes they get along great, but then there are days where they can’t be in the same room as each other! How much fighting is too much fighting between siblings, and how can I control it?

And such is life with siblings!

Every parent who has decided to have more than one child enjoys the thrills and good times of the bigger family life, and also is subjected to their siblings’ shenanigans.

The sibling relationship is like no other, really. It is often the longest lasting relationship a person will have. And it thrives in the ever-churning waters of love and hate, and all the expressions thereof. There is just no one you can treat as horribly as your brother, and he doesn’t even go away!

There have been countless studies on sibling relationships, most of which would help you to realize not only that you’re not alone in your frustration, but also that your kids are pretty normal. For the purposes of this column, rest assured that the degree of your kids’ fighting and shenanigans during their growing years is no predictor of how they will get along (or not) in later years. In fact, all that fighting actually serves a purpose—many purposes.

Having a sibling teaches kids oodles of early lessons about sharing, turn taking, territoriality, patience, empathy and kindness, to name just a few. It also provides an arena for practicing social skills, conflict resolution and working out problems of all kinds. Someone was nasty to you at school today? Why not dump the same on your little sister?

Typical sibling issues, truth be told, usually bother the parents far more than the kids themselves. One minute you hear your child spew a stream of mean and hurtful verbal darts at his brother, and the next they are laughing and sharing again. Fighting’s over.

You ask how you might control your kids’ fighting? The answer is simple: you can’t.

So, here it is. Usually the problems between siblings are magnified when a parent gets involved. Had you left well enough alone, it’s highly likely that your kids would have figured out a solution by themselves. You may not like or agree with it, but they have solved it, and it’s over. After all, when both have attended any school, they know how to work out problems.

But once you stick your nose into it, they don’t have to. So, my biggest piece of advice to you when you hear your kids fighting (and doesn’t the noise of it just drive you crazy?) is to butt out!

I can tell you this: Studies have shown that siblings who report that they have a warm, close family also report being close to their siblings. Therefore, another piece of advice is to build plenty of regular, fun family times, rituals and memory-makers into your regular family life. Warm up your family.

There are ways, however, to put your sibling kids in a position to fight less. Make sure your kids don’t have too much togetherness. Each child needs a life of his own, including his own friends and activities, even his own toys and stuff. Don’t insist on too much sharing.

And each child needs to have separate, alone time with each parent on a regular basis. When a child feels honored as an individual, he is going to feel better about himself. When his bucket is fuller, the fighting will be less.

Did I mention tattling? That’s another bit of advice. Make it illegal. Don’t even respond to it. Don’t call out the other child. If one can’t engage you on his team, the fight will likely fizzle out.

But I could go on and on. There is so much to say about siblings that I devoted a whole chapter to it in my first book, “Just Tell Me What to Say.” You can also watch my short, pay-for-view video, “Siblings!” on my website.