Sibling Fights: Training Ground for Marriage

by Bill Bellet and Marie Bellet

Parents can get very discouraged when their children do not get along. We all dream of a mutually supportive family filled with peace and understanding. Does sibling fighting reflect our neglect as parents who allow a stew of selfishness and degradation – the stuff of reality TV? Actually, kids learning to fight and work through sibling rivalry is an irreplaceable training ground for marriage and all relationships.

It’s important to remember that kids often fight simply because they want to fight. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a real problem to be solved. Many parents, mothers in particular, view fighting as a sign of their own failure to instill virtues in their children. It is actually a valuable part of growing up. There is no need to referee a solution.

Kids need to know how to fight. They need to know that it is OK to push back and confront others when we are hurt or when we see them doing something that is wrong. They need to know how to handle their anger productively. We also need to teach them that nothing trumps forgiveness in healing relationships.

We should intervene when feelings are being hurt. We should not allow fighting to become too personal or hurtful. The best of families always show respect, engage in disagreements with a sense of humor and never say or do anything to others that is degrading. The mocking example set in so many modern television sitcoms with sarcastic eye-rolling is humiliating and has to be off limits, no matter how funny the kids think they are being. Name-calling, demeaning remarks and ganging up on each other are off limits! Good-humored teasing that encourages everyone not to take themselves too seriously is OK. Kids have to develop the sensitivity to know the difference.

Setting high expectations for how kids treat each other must start when they are young. We forced our kids when they were very young to kiss and make up after a fight and to sit with each other alone in the same room for half an hour. It is a good way to teach that you cannot “amputate” when there is a disagreement. You still have to bear with one another whether you want to or not!

The culture of death is all about destroying relationships. Modern parenting styles unwittingly contribute to this destruction. Many parents, in an effort to just “keep the peace,” avoid sibling fights by providing electronic plug-ins for each individual child to keep them distracted, placated and quiet. While convenient, this is a huge mistake. Once the kids are not plugged in, they are even less able to get along because they have the false sense of being able to control the sensory stream coming their way – not unlike their music, games, and shows. They do not even have to argue about what to watch! Nothing has been solved. In fact, valuable years have been wasted. Even though the kids have shared the same home, they do not have a shared history. They have each lived in their own private, isolated world, which tolerates none of the messy irritation that defines human relationships.

Kids clashing over who gets to play with things, who gets to talk at dinner, jealousies, access to facilities or privileges, etc., are invaluable learning experiences. They learn to share, to compromise, to be assertive, to give, to respect another’s response to them, and when they have gone too far. This is the work of becoming a companion, a friend, a future spouse. As irritating and difficult as it is, it cannot be replaced. Relationships are all about self-control. Sibling fights are an excellent training ground – “boot camp” for adulthood.

We encourage parents to give their children the gift of each other. Let them be bored and learn to hash it out. Unless there is real meanness, let them figure it out if they talk too much or are too whiny, bossy or uncooperative. Better now than later. Nobody wants to be with someone who cannot tolerate the reality of another person. Their future spouses will appreciate it.