As a parent, it can feel like you are spending more time playing referee to your children’s disagreements than parenting.
Whether it is because both want the same toy (despite the many toys being neglected all over the house), or whether it’s a she-said-he-said on who started the pushing first, parents can often feel lost in their children’s disagreements.
- When should they intervene?
- Should they just let them fight it out?
- When will they just get along?
While it might not stop the constant bickering, the good news is that sibling conflict can be good for children and parents are being advised to not jump in to referee mode too quickly.
The authors of a literature review on sibling relationships found that sibling interactions are unique opportunities for social-cognitive development.
“Through their conflicts siblings can develop skills in perspective taking, emotion understanding, negotiation, persuasion, and problem solving,” they say.
“These competencies extend beyond the sibling relationship and are linked to later social competence, emotion understanding, and peer relationships.”
Sibling conflict can teach life skills
Dr Rachael Sharman, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the Sunshine Coast agrees that sibling conflict can teach vital life skills.
She highlights that parents need to understand the root of sibling conflict – siblings often compete for parental resources.
“Siblings are known to compete with each other specifically for parental resources,” she says.
“So, whether that is time, attention or material resources, that is to be expected.”
She adds that, in planning their family, parents need to take into account the pressure additional children place on parental resources and the parent’s ability to meet their children’s needs.
“There is some mythology around the idea that adding brothers or sisters will give an existing child a playmate and help take the load off parents,” she says.
“Recent Australian and United Kingdom research has debunked that idea utterly, adding extra children tends to add extra demand and stress to a family.”
Australian research found that second children increase time pressure and negatively impact parents’ mental health.
Dr Sharman advises parents to ensure that their resources are evenly spread amongst the siblings in order to reduce conflict.
“The likely precipitating factor in sibling conflict is competition, so ensuring time, energy and material wealth is shared equally amongst your children will assist in reducing conflict,” she says.
“It is also important to teach children about the value of sharing, co-operation and give and take.”