Mama Says: “How Can I Stop the Fighting?”

Dear Mama,
I have two sons 5 and 3 years old. I saw you speak on creativity and was inspired to put together an art and inventor’s box, and it works—they love it! but the 3-year-old messes with his brother’s projects and things often escalate to a fight. How can I stop the fighting and make things fair?

A:  You can’t.  Life includes luck and loss right out of the chute.  Siblings’ relationships are complex.  When I was pregnant with my second child I read a study that followed siblings from birth to adulthood. One of things the study found was a correlation between the amount of time a parent intervened in conflicts (tried to make things fair) and the strength of the relationship. The more a parent got in between the fighting siblings and tried to mitigate or resolve the conflict, or make things fair there was a tendency toward a more distant relationship.  In fact, the less a parent interfered and let them work it out themselves, the closer the relationship.  We are talking about the garden-variety conflict, not physical or emotional abuse that a parent must absolutely  step in and handle.

I took the study to heart with our four kids.  I used the word ‘oh’ a lot (“He took all my Legos!!’  ‘Oh.’  She won’t leave me alone!!”  ‘Oh.’)  I gazed in the middle distance and continued whatever I was doing.  I paid little to no attention to tattle telling.  I didn’t care who started it, I detest tattling.  Our kids are grown and in their late 20’s and early 30’s and they are a tight clan who continue to keep in regular and close contact with one another.  Did they fight growing up?  You bet.  Did ‘oh’ always work?  No.  But I used benign neglect more often than not in their conflicts.  To answer your question specifically there is nothing wrong with having a special box of things for your oldest, set aside only for him.   “When you are 5 you may have a special box too,”  you can say to the youngest.  This makes your oldest feel honored and the youngest may protest, but you are the boss!

Life is not always fair and families are not democracies, but home is the rich seedbed where we learn to resolve conflicts, to live with one another, and take the lessons out the door when we are adults.

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