Do your children argue? How would you describe their fighting?
Cats and dogs? Tigers and bears?
The question is – why but why?!?
Q: Why do my kids fight all the time?
A: Dr. G: Siblings fight for three reasons. Familiarity, competition and safety.
There is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. It is certainly true that siblings often express contempt for each other. Brothers and sisters do not find any topic to be off limits. They will insult each others’ clothes, friends, words, hobbies. Truly nothing is off limits without parental intervention.
The flip side of this scrutiny is often (grudging) respect. Kids know, even if they don’t voice it, all of the great qualities in their siblings. The admiration often turns to envy, though, and that makes the next issue worse.
Siblings feel the need to compete about nearly everything! In my house I have heard the words “I can pee faster than you!” and “the door on my room is crookeder than yours!” The drive to compete is inborn, and parents can guide it but we’ll never get rid of it entirely.
Children use competition to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and to learn life skills. Through their endless games and races and comparisons, they realize that not everyone is great at everything. They learn to improve what is important to them and to focus on their strengths. They discover strategy.
This competition, mixed with familiarity, has other advantages! Siblings act as reality checks for each other. When one’s clothes or words or behavior are socially unacceptable, a sibling will not hesitate for a second to say so. “You’re not wearing *that* are you?” “Don’t pick your nose, it’s disgusting and you’ll have no friends.” “When you laugh like that you sound like an idiot.”
When children here these messages from friends, it can ruin the friendship. The sibling relationship is permanent. The certainty of family can increase the fighting. For the same reasons that kids’ behavior is often worse at home than anywhere else, sibling relationships are often where kids let loose with their most negative emotions.
This is a picture of what our kids will do to each other if parents don’t take a guiding hand. Just because behaviors are developmentally normal doesn’t mean they are acceptable! As we correct our toddlers when they hit and bite, we can teach our children that they owe each other respect.
If kids are raised in a home where criticism is offered measured with kindness, and name-calling is not allowed, then the fighting will take a more reasonable tone.
Our children are more familiar with each other than with anyone else in the world. They will compete, to one degree or another, for years. It is up to us as parents to make sure that home is truly a safe place. We needn’t intervene in every disagreement. We must, however, insist on a baseline of respect from each person to every other.
What our kids do and what they say is more important than how they feel. With this truth in mind, we can create a cushion of respectful behavior. Then we can allow the natural familiarity and competition to form our kids into the great adults they can become!
Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a Board Certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting writer and speaker (for parents, community & business). Her signature individualized workshop, “How to Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” captivates parents through her humorous straight talk, which lifts the guilt out of parenting. Her mission is to help parents raise children they can respect and admire. Visit her website.