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Are the Kids Making a War-Zone Out of Your Home?

Katya Bowd

Posted on July 14 2017

If you had siblings growing up, you remember what it was like. There are usually a number of triggers that inevitably sprout up in the relationship between siblings, prompting outbreaks of tempers and the impulsive behaviours that take place.

The following advice on parenting may assist you in helping your children identify their own triggers, work out the appropriate responses, and then develop a strategy for implementing them. Depending on the personalities of your children, these triggers can be managed somewhat easily if you take the time to identify what they are. For some children, especially those who struggle with displays of a passive-aggressive nature, it can be more challenging. But, with enough time around your kids, a pattern will probably become pretty apparent. Perhaps one is the instigator on a consistent basis, or they may each have the personality that tends to “start something” whenever they get the chance. Your job will not be to play favourites or even to play referee. When it comes to teaching your kids about conflict resolution, mums need to think more like a consultant offering expertise.

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Ah, but we all know better. The variables at play rarely allow the process of imparting this wisdom to be an easy task. One of those variables happens to be your own ability to keep your cool in the heat of the moment during an explosive exchange between your kids. So what kind of motherhood tips would break the process down so you don’t go crazy trying to keep the peace? One way to get to the root of the problem and find the real solutions is to keep track of the ways your kids actually respond to each other when they are angry or frustrated.

Do they resort to name-calling first? Getting physical? Running to Mum or Dad for backup? That analysis alone will tell you a lot about the psychology of each kid who frequently gets involved in the conflicts.

Kids who immediately run to a parent have a tendency to “pass the buck” and have an underdeveloped sense of personal responsibility. Instead of learning to identify their own part in the conflict and personally make an effort to reconcile, they immediately run to an authority figure to describe what happened TO them. The challenge with kids who tattle is they often don’t give others the opportunity to apologise or make something right before they run to “get them in trouble” – it’s a passive-aggressive behaviour. This develops into a victim mentality, which is certainly not the goal. Take some of these best parenting tips as a guideline for addressing this self-image if you see it budding in your child:

Set a standard that if they have not made the effort to work out the problem themselves, you are not going to solve the problem for them – however, you are available if they need help talking it out. Kids who learn that it’s ok to bring in an expert to HELP them solve their problems learn several other important concepts:

  • They are capable individuals, and problems are never insurmountable.
  • Just because they are not sure how to do something, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
  • Experts exist on every subject under the sun – so somebody can help if they aren’t sure where to start. The important part is knowing where to look for direction and assistance.
  • If they are willing to learn effective conflict resolution strategies, they will never be at the mercy of anyone else’s bad attitude or poor conduct.


But, most importantly, not running to their rescue every time “so-and-so did something TO them” gives you the opportunity to objectively remind them that conflicts are never a one-way street. It’s true – we can’t make other people behave the way we want them to. But, we always have the choice of how we respond. So, if you have a “tattler,” an effective parenting strategy is to empower them with alternatives for handling the problem – but insist that they handle it themselves.

“I’m sorry that you were hurt when [problem-starter’s behaviour occurred]. I will deal with his behaviour in a moment. First, let him know how that made you feel, and ask him nicely not to do that anymore. It may have been an accident. Your responsibility is to give him the chance to apologise and forgive him when he does.”

Teaching your child to demonstrate the appropriate respect for others – even someone who has hurt them – will help keep the conflicts that start small from escalating into a massive back-and-forth. Obviously, some discretion is necessary for determining if your child is being a tattle-tale, or truly being bullied by another sibling.

What about the kid that responds to offenses – or simply the existence of other siblings – by getting physical? There was a social commentary ad that ran a while back raising awareness about abuse. It focused on not downplaying occurrences in which children to display aggression, especially between boys and girls. “It just means he likes you,” the mother explained to her little girl, followed by a montage of how the girl’s life progressed into adulthood, showing a string of abusive situations between this girl and the boy who had pushed her around as a child. “Stop abuse before it starts,” was the fadeout at the end.

Between siblings, it may be tempting to brush off physically aggressive behaviour. But identifying the motives of the aggressor is really important. Horseplay is a very natural activity for young bodies with pent-up energy. But ask yourself about what you see when it’s happening.

  • Does the aggressor acknowledge the limitations of the one with whom he gets physical, and make concessions sometimes to keep it fun? Or does he get a thrill from dominating the situation? Is this empowering to him, prompting unprovoked encounters that get out of control?
  • Are both parties having fun when the rough-housing begins? Or is the other sibling always trying to fend off the aggressor, run away, and generally avoid outbreaks of horseplay?


Here’s some helpful parenting advice if you see a lot of horseplay: Tune in some time and intentionally watch during a particularly rough round. Observe, but don’t get involved. Assess the motivation behind what’s happening.

Make time when it gets quiet, and ask the sibling that tends to be the victim of aggression, “What is your preferred way to rough-house? What do you like? What do you not like?” Find out what his or her idea of “horseplay” is. Do it when the aggressive sibling is not around, so you get a candid answer.

This is fuel for the discussion you can have with the aggressive child to establish the expectations and boundaries for physicality in your home. Children need to learn at a very young age the importance of respecting the boundaries of other people, and this starts with family. It’s never ok to wilfully overstep the boundary another person has in regard to their own body. Ask them to give you examples of boundaries his or her sibling may have that are not being respected. If you get an “I don’t know,” you can share what you learned, declare the concrete facts of the existence of those boundaries, and develop an understanding with your child of what changes you expect to see in his or her behaviour.


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These are just a couple of tips for good, proactive parenting. If you have recurring difficulties – be they tattling or physical aggression, gossip or name-calling – try to identify the root problem. What self-image is prompting each child’s behaviour? And what can you do as a parent to correct any misconceptions that have resulted from these perceptions? Once your kids have the tools to assess the appropriateness of their own behaviour, they are better equipped to cope with the difficult behaviours they see in others.

Hopefully, this will be a helpful exercise that progressively transforms the home from a war zone into a safe haven. Let us know what other advice has made an impact in your home!