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Break it up, or let ‘em fight it out?



Experts weigh in on whether to intervene in sibling squabbles

Experts weigh in on sibling squabbles


As the pandemic slogs on, even siblings who lived in relative harmony prior to Covid-19 have been clashing more and more. As Catherine Pearson writes in Huffington Post, “I don’t blame [my children.] We are in each other’s faces all day long. We are out of our routines. Sometimes I snap at them; sometimes I let it play out. None of it seems to help. And, goodness, I am sick of their bickering being the soundtrack of my days.”

Various experts offer tips, with details varying depending on the age of the squabblers, and the nature of the conflict. Clinical psychologist Laura Kastner, author of Getting to Calm, The Early Years: Cool-headed Strategies for Raising Happy, Caring and Independent 3-7 Year Olds, says to keep in mind Covid-19 is “a disaster,” and that parents should absolutely recalibrate expectations of harmony. “So put on the TV,” she says. “Let kids eat junk food. Don’t stress if your home feels messy and chaotic and your kids are growing increasingly feral. Get through the days and don’t worry too much about building bad habits.”

READ MORE: Harmonious siblings…is there such a thing?

Psychology professor Laurie Kramer has some more proactive advice: “You want to help them stop what they’re doing,” she says. “You might say, ‘Hey, I see the two of you are having a problem. Let’s take a pause.’ She advises not ignoring sibling skirmishes, lest kids take it as permission. Specifically, she promotes learning the “skill of stopping” when temperatures rise. Taking a pause. (Easier said than done.)

Kastner advises having each child talk it out, so the feel their feelings are validated.

The upshot: screaming at kids to stop, and simply shutting things down are both counter-productive. And if the conflict is violent or humiliating, all agree that intervention is key. Children can – and absolutely should – learn coping skills and conflict strategies as early as possible. Perhaps the pandemic is the perfect opportunity.



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