By SHAMALA VELU
Sibling rivalry is bound to happen when you have more than one child. It is especially intense and stressful for parents who have to play referee all day long. Although the best thing is for siblings to work things out themselves, many parents are drawn into their children's fights, afraid it escalates into something loud and physical.
Should parents leave siblings to sort out quarrels among themselves, or should they step in?
Two parents share their opinion:
Norlin Wan Musa with daughter Ishra.
Norlin Wan Musa, mother to Aditya Kamiso, six, and Ishra Kamiso, 10:
“My children actually get along pretty well most of the time. If they quarrel, they don't get physical with each other, either. They’ve had heated arguments but this happens occasionally. I let my kids resolve their differences unless they ask me for help. However, when they start yelling at each other, I become alert.
If shouting matches start, I usually ask them what is going on and speak to them about their feelings and how they want to work things out. Sometimes, I tell them to take some time away from each other before sorting things out. My favourite line is, 'You guys sort it out'. I think I use this so often that the other day I heard my daughter say to the house pets, 'You guys sort it out'.
Although we don’t have any rules about fighting, I don’t encourage them to use bad language. Being physical and using bad language is something we talk a lot about.
I tell them not to say things that they would not want others to use on them. I also talk to them about friends and why being physical or verbal will not help or do anything good for them.
I usually talk to my kids and find out why they do the things they do. The last time my son used a bad word at home (a few months ago), it turned out he didn’t understand what the word meant. Sometimes he’d come up to me and ask what certain bad words mean and why such words exist, or why adults use them. I don’t usually resort to punishment on my kids though.
They usually quarrel when they have different opinions and cannot agree on a game they are playing or a movie they watch. They get frustrated when they don't see eye to eye.
I normally just listen and observe. I talk to them when they ask me for my help or my opinion. Otherwise, I just let them be. More often than not, they will sort things out among themselves. Even when one person ends up saying 'I’ll never play this game ever again'.
I guess when I let them be, they get to think about what happened and learn things at their own pace. They do say sorry to each other and then make up on their own. Before long they will be playing the very game which they vowed to never touch again.
When they display inappropriate behaviour, we talk about it. I don’t threaten them, but I am firm. I try my best to not be emotional about situations either. I am still learning to do this. Sometimes it’s hard. I will usually ask why my son or daughter behaved in that manner.
I will give them my opinion and explain how I felt about what I saw. Sometimes it ends up with a discussion on what’s appropriate and what’s not.
However, I do punish when behaviour is inappropriate. I will deny them playdates or sleepovers. But this happens not because they quarrel but because they didn’t do their work or perform their duties.
My parents were old school. We were scolded and yelled at when we fought. My mum sometimes hit me and my sister when we fought. One of us usually got blamed when we argued or fought. I had always wanted to parent my kids differently.
I like explaining things and talking to them. I believe that they need to understand why people do things the way they do. I also want them to understand their own feelings and be able to express and channel them appropriately.
I also like to guide them into understanding other people’s feelings and the reason why they behave in such a way. Hopefully, they can respond logically when they are confronted, such as when someone antagonises them. I hope they will be able to identify the behaviour and not react to it. My daughter understands this better now, probably because she’s older.
I never take sides when the kids are fighting. I also don't believe that the older child should always give in to the younger sibling.
I'm glad that my children don’t bicker that much now. I guess the more we spend time with each other, the more we learn to get along and understand each another.”
Saraswathi Viswakumar, housewife and mother to Maheshwaran 10, and Lalitha, 14:
“My house is full of noise and scenarios of my kids having major arguments. Although my daughter is more mature now, she doesn't give in to her brother when they fight. There's always bickering and sometimes it escalates and they can get physical.
Whenever a fight starts, I'm already up on my toes to see what is going on as I fear they may hit each other. They know they cannot physically fight but sometimes they break the rules. Sometimes, there are also screaming matches. When it happens, I usually take away devices and the game that caused the fight in the first place.
That really cools them down. Sometimes, they become friends again and scheme together to get the devices back from me.
I must say that the kids do bring out the worst in me. I find that I'm unable to control my anger because their quarrels can be so irritating. Almost anything can spur a conflict between the two of them.
I find myself acting like a child and yelling at the one who irritates me most. After I calm down, I would apologise and explain how I felt. My daughter is very loving but I find that she does not want to understand my feelings. She is also very strong-willed and tries to reason out why she should not be punished.
My son feels bullied most of the time and that's why I sympathise with him. When my son came along four years after Lalitha, she was very jealous. I knew there would be problems because she used to get a lot of attention from friends and family. I thought that she would someday get over it. However, I find that she still looks for attention.
She irritates Maheswaran and upsets him for no reason at all sometimes. Most of the time there's name-calling between them and I have to separate them physically and tell them to go to their own rooms.
I find myself getting involved in all their fights because I don't want it to escalate.
Sometimes I beg my daughter to give in to her younger brother so the argument can be settled. I know it's wrong, but I feel it's natural for the older sibling to give in to the younger one. She cannot understand this yet. I believe it stems from the way I was brought up. I'm the eldest of three siblings and my parents believed I had to take on more responsibility. However, children nowadays don't understand this concept. We need to tackle the situations with patience and understanding. However, I know I lack in this area of parenting.
There are times when they play together nicely and I feel blessed during these rare moments. Deep down, I know Lalitha loves her brother very much and he loves her, too. My only hope is that when they are young adults, they will learn to respect each other and have a good relationship. I want them to have good memories of their childhood and laugh at the silly quarrels they once had.”