Parents are probably so upset about their children fighting because, most of all, they want them to be friends. This is the ideal we’re all striving for.
But how do we deal with the nitty gritty of everyday on our way to this ideal? The best book I’ve ever read on the subject is Siblings Without Rivalry (Avon Books) by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish. They give specific and common examples along with the best way to deal with each one. Also, they talk about general principles to keep in mind for any situation.
My husband, Lloyd, says things were relatively calm around our house because with my nearsighted eyes and poor hearing, I didn’t see half of what went on, and everybody was happier.
Another important principle in the book, which reinforces what I said earlier, is to never, ever compare your children! Comparisons always add gasoline to the flames of competition. This is obvious when you say things like, “Why can’t you be neat and clean up your room like your sister?” But it is even harmful to the neat one when you compare her in a positive way to the messy one who isn’t there. “I wish your sister were as neat as you are.” Instead, if you want to compliment the neat one, describe what you see. “You worked hard to make your room this clean. I’m impressed.” The first way tells your child she’s better than her sister, which doesn’t do their relationship any good. The second way acknowledges her accomplishment and tells her she’s praiseworthy. Her sister should not enter into it at all.
Sometimes fights become so physical they could be dangerous, and then you have to step in to avoid bodily harm. Again, the book suggests you quickly describe what you see. “I see a boy about to hit his sister with a truck. This is too dangerous, and you need a cooling off period. You sit on the couch and you go sit on that chair.” Sometimes with little boys and their inborn need to wrestle, it’s hard to tell if the situation is real anger or just healthy wrestling. So ask them, “Is this a real fight or a play fight?” It has to be agreed by both parties that it’s a play fight or it gets stopped.
To avoid arguments about food, I’ve heard mothers say they carefully divided things like french fries into equal amounts. They practically weighed everything on a postal scale, and cutting a pizza took forever. But the book has a better suggestion. If someone complains that someone else got more, ask the complainer, “Oh, are you still hungry? Do you want more?” This reply puts the focus on the individual and allows them to determine what they actually want, not what they want in comparison to what someone else has. If it was something like cake, Lloyd’s father used to tell his two boys, “One of you cuts it and the other chooses which piece he wants,” thereby taking the parent out of the picture completely.