Ever feel like your kids have polar opposite personalities? It’s not an uncommon occurrence, and those differences can bubble up into frequent fights. Luckily, those fights can be framed in a way that leads to growth and lessons that will serve your children throughout life.
My kids have opposite personalities.
That’s normal! In fact, there’s an argument to be made that our personalities are in part formed out of reaction to our siblings’.
Sibling rivalry and divergence theory.
If you’re into Darwinian theory -- particularly a strain worked on by scholar Frank Sulloway -- sibling rivalry would be a natural manifestation of competition between children for their parent’s love and attention. Sometimes that competition will manifest in a fight. Other times, though, this competition can actually foster an environment that produces opposite personalities in siblings.
Living things prefer to compete indirectly, according to Darwin, so they differentiate themselves from each other through a process called divergence. In an environment like a nuclear family where it’s in your best interest to get along long-term, one of the best ways to compete for your parent’s attention or love is through divergence.
Your older brother might have a million friends, but you can differentiate yourself from him by focusing on your academics and outperforming him in that arena. Your sister might be born with some innate musical talent you’ll never match, but you can indirectly compete by dedicating time to your athletic goals.
Preventing conflict between siblings.
Just because you understand one of the reasons why your children might have such different personalities doesn’t make their fighting any easier.
One of the best ways to stop fighting is to prevent it. Let’s cover some prevention strategies.
Schedule one-on-one time for each child.
The love and approval of a caretaker is something every child wants and deserves. A good way to keep yourself in check and make sure you’re spending enough time with each child one-on-one is to schedule it on your calendar.
Having one-on-one time will not only help your child feel loved; it may also help you identify any emerging needs your child has before those needs get expressed in a brawl with their sibling.
Schedule preferred activities as a family.
Your kids are differentiating themselves according to divergence theory, and they want that difference to be noticed and appreciated by the family at large. Make sure to schedule a time where the entire family engages in each child’s preferred activity. That could include things like the entire family attending:
- A sibling’s sporting event.
- A college or professional sporting event.
- A sibling’s recital.
- An orchestra performance.
Independent of each child’s hobbies, make sure you’re rotating things like who picks the restaurant every time you order takeout, or who picks the movie every time you go to the theater as a family.
Model healthy conflict-resolution skills.
Your children will hear your words, but your actions speak louder. If you are in a relationship, you and your partner can model healthy conflict-resolution skills to your children. That’s not to say you’ll never fight; just that when you do, you are mindful to do so respectfully, knowing your kids are listening even when you think they’re not.
If you are a single parent, you can still model positive interpersonal skills. When a conflict comes up with anyone from a friend to a coworker to a customer service rep, keeping your cool and keeping respectful will go a long way towards teaching your children the same behaviors.
Resolving conflict between siblings.
There will be times when even your best-laid efforts will not prevent a fight. When fights occur, here’s how you can handle them.
Coach through conflicts -- don’t resolve them.
As hard as it can be to watch your children fight, it’s not something you should step in and ‘fix’ for them. Be present when your children fight, and be prepared to step in when language or volume starts to get out of control.
When it does, providing alternative language for your child will teach them a way to get their point across without losing control. If you step in and decide who wins and loses, though, you’re denying your child the opportunity to learn to navigate conflict resolution independently.
There will be times when things get too explosive to handle healthily. In these instances, it’s okay to separate your children until they calm down. Then, you can coach them through those productive conversations that can help them find a resolution while fully expressing their feelings.
Address any developmental needs.
If you have a toddler and school-aged child, the former is probably running around claiming everything as, ‘Mine!’ While the older child might be pouting about how ‘unfair’ everything is.
These emotions are developmentally appropriate for each age group. Some friction between the two is to be expected. If you can accommodate these different developmental needs, you’ll be able to reduce fights and help your child work through the feelings they stir up.
Sibling rivalry is normal.
Just because your children fight doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. These disagreements teach important lessons that can benefit your child for the rest of their lives. It’s all about helping them frame these lessons and express their emotions in a healthy manner.