August 9th, 2021
Is it a right of passage? A dominance paradigm? A battle for parents love? What?
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman had a lot to say about this reality in Nurture Shock, a great book. It turns out that siblings fight on average 3.5 times an hour or 42 times while awake. It is roughly 10 minutes of every hour. Ouch, that is a lot of squabbling. Now we know why parents feel stressed at the end of an average day.
Dr Ganie DeHart noted that siblings said 7 times as many negative comments toward a sibling as opposed to a friend. Why? Siblings don't go anywhere whereas a friend can reject you for your statements and isolate you from an experience that you crave. Age spacing and gender have little effect on the frequency and severity of fights.
Dr. Laurie Kramer has studied sibling relationships for decades. The sum total of her research is that siblings will fight and that the quality of the fighting persists in a similar way throughout the siblings lives into adulthood.
This is a bad thing if they fight like cats. However, her research also went on to show that the quality and happiness of the relationship between siblings was determined by the quality of the positive interactions. Doing chores and projects together can foster team work and conflict resolution. She promotes a resolution task called, "Stop, think and talk". Essentially, learn to resolve the issue verbally as siblings. (Lewis K. 2021)
The positive playtime in effect balances out the negative fighting moments. This is eerily similar to a marriage. Dr. Kramer has a 6 hour training program for children that aims to improve the relationship. "Fewer fights are the consequence of teaching the children proactive skills of initiating play on terms they can both enjoy. It's conflict prevention, not conflict resolution."
I often tell my children to work it out and enjoy the play time. Dr. Kramer encourages parents not to fix their children's problems and fights. In this way they learn natural conflict resolution. A parent can facilitate a solution, but not be the solution.
Kramer also went on to show that the best predictor of sibling happiness was the oldest child's relationship with his best friend. If the older child had a fair and balanced relationship with his best friend, then the quality of the future sibling diad was likely to be good.
Boil it all down to two things: 1) giving kids the tools to have a good relationship with a friend will bolster the sibship in the future. 2) parents should not be in the conflict resolution business.