It’s inevitable that siblings will fight. They’ll lose their patience; rag on the other’s friends; comment on outfits; complain when music is too loud, cologne too strong, or when someone left the shower drain too hair-clogged. It’s taken me awhile, but I think I’m finally figuring out when to get involved and when to let them duke it out—as long as it doesn’t come to actual physical blows, which so far it hasn’t. Most times it’s just plain obvious what’s motivating the needling and it’s understood that it’s normal adolescent behavior; anyone with a sibling has been there. The real challenge is moderating the process.
As someone who prides herself on maintaining diplomacy, I’ll admit that it can be especially trying when in the middle of an outburst one child will assert a previously vented opinion about a topic that’s already been addressed (probably during another heated argument), with the outcome not necessarily to their complete and utter satisfaction. Then, or optimally, later, it becomes a discussion about who the parent is, what kind of job the parent is doing, and how the child thinks the parent can improve. Is this what they mean about teenagers being challenging? I wonder.
Based on experience, and trial and error, the best way to handle sibling rivalry is one issue at a time. When things escalate, and it’s no longer about how long one made the other wait after school before heading home but more about the other’s anxiety over being left alone, topics and temperatures need to systematically be broken down. For me, it’s first things first: long, deep breaths; sips of water; maybe a bite to eat. “Now,” I might say, “tell me what you’re feeling without cycling back into the depths of your annoyance and overall dissatisfaction of people in general.”
Look, we’re all human; at least all the people in my house are, anyway. We’re prone to becoming incensed about something. Whether it’s because I shrunk a favorite sweater in the hot-water load or that someone left every pair of shoes they’ve worn that week—and maybe a pair or two from the previous week—on each ascending step to the second floor, figuring out how best to address what’s really bothering us is the only way to get to the root of the aggravation and on to the path to resolution. Because it all has to be resolved before you say good night—no matter what. And this does not just apply to those of us neck-deep in parenting. Communication 101 tells us to be direct and maintain honesty. Therapy 101 has told me to never start a sentence with "You made me feel..." These are lessons I repeatedly bestow on my kids.
Like everything, it comes down to things making sense. How you relay your reasoning makes all the difference in the world. Speaking to others as I would expect and like to be spoken to keeps it simple and easy for my darlings to understand how best to proceed. Tempering what’s expressed with compassion and empathy goes a very long way. I’m constantly reminding my kids to choose their words carefully, but above all, to be aware of tone. Also, and I wish more grown-ups would take heed of this, remember to always respect the other person’s time to speak and be mindful that they have just as much of a right to present their point as you do. No one likes to be interrupted, yet it seems at one point or another we all are. We must always speak our truth, but we also must speak it keeping these things in mind. We’re all entitled to every single emotion that flows through us, but let’s not forget that the other person is too.