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Siblings Fighting – How Far Should You Let Them?

We – my web specialist and me – have been working on the website for already a month. Then, the moment came for me to write the first article for the blog. I was contemplating, I noted subjects I would like to write about, but still not sure what I should start with. And then – like it usually happens to me – life threw me a bone.

Different people, different opinions

My daughters are 12 and 13 years old. My sons are 15 and 16. They look at the world from different perspectives and are concerned about different things. The boys are currently in the age where they are experimenting with risky behaviour – alcohol, smoking, etc. The girls care about their looks and what their friends think of them. Therefore, ultimately also about: “what do they think about the members of my family?”, or in this particular situation, “What do they think about my brothers?” In our family, it is encouraged to openly communicate with each other, and that is why the girls felt it was necessary for them to openly state their opinion to their brothers about their behaviour. That, of course, led to a difference in opinions between them.

Dialogue v. discussion

Before I go on, let me explain the difference between the two terms I will be using – dialogue and discussion. Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people, usually a free exchange of opinions where nobody has to “win the battle”. However, a discussion is a conversation about opinions in a way that each party tries to convince the other party their opinion is the right one and should be taken as the right opinion of the group. The emphasis in the discussion is indeed on the winning, instead of learning more about each other.

Why I stay out of dialogues between my children

Normally, I try to stay out of dialogues between my children and just keep an eye on the development of it, because it is important that they learn to do this on their own, without getting into a fight. Why? Because they are very different (young) people, but still a family. If you learn to have a healthy dialogue – instead of a heated discussion or an argument – then you learn that you can love each other even if you are not similar and you learn to accept other people’s opinions. If you learn this in your family, you will be more tolerant outside of your family too, in the society – in your relationships with partners, colleagues and friends.

Stopping a discussion and setting boundaries

The problem is that learning a healthy dialogue is not an easy thing to do. Last week’s dialogue turned into a not-so-calm discussion and it was the time I stepped in and set some boundaries.
How to do this?
1. Stop the discussion.
You have to stop the dialogue when it turns into a discussion. Nobody profits from a discussion in a family, and members are allowed to have their own views without other member disapproving of it.
2. Analyse the conversation.
You need to know where exactly the dialogue derailed.
3. Point out the mistakes.
Explain (usually to both parties involved) where and when it went wrong. They need to really understand in order to learn and not repeat the same mistakes.
4. Give an alternative.
Every time you point out “wrong” behaviour you need to give an alternative option. By this, I mean you should be able to tell them how they should have continued their dialogue without it turning into a discussion.

How did it go in our example

First, I told the girls that I do not like the fact that they are only criticising the boys and pointing out the negative stuff they do when they also do a lot of nice things. They are not one-dimensional people, as nobody is and continually pointing out mistakes is a no way to have a healthy relationship with anybody. I also told them that it is my task as a parent to keep an eye on what the boys do and discuss their behaviour with them.
The girls can direct their questions (and fears) to me or their father and should not intervene in raising their older brothers. I understand that they worry, but they have to understand and accept the fact that it is a part of the boys lives now. They also have to trust us as parents that we are paying attention and acting on it when necessary.
The girls are entitled to their opinion about their brothers, but it is not their task to discuss this with them. It results in a fight and it is putting unnecessary strain on their relationship.

Why do children try to intervene in parenting at all

Kids in this age are trying to gain control over themselves and their lives. As a parent, you need to give the space to do this, step by step. This is the reason why it is difficult to decide when you need to use your authority. For me, this was one of those moments.

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