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Ad­vice from the best in the UAE.

Q My two boys, aged nine and 11, fight a lot, of­ten phys­i­cally. The younger one is dom­i­neer­ing. My hus­band and I are ex­hausted try­ing to dis­ci­pline them.

A This is an is­sue many parents will iden­tify with. Sib­ling ri­valry is quite nor­mal but it can feel like it’s get­ting out of hand if left unchecked. At its core is usu­ally a ri­valry for at­ten­tion cou­pled with a sense of jeal­ousy that the other sib­ling is out­do­ing them in some way. Age plays a part and so does gen­der. Your boys are close to­gether in age and this can some­times heighten ten­sions. Both be­ing boys, this can also mean that they are more prone to take it to a phys­i­cal level. Your boys need the tools to learn how to re­solve con­flict and man­age their feel­ings more ef­fec­tively. First, look at how you be­have to­wards them. Parents some­times make com­par­isons be­tween their chil­dren, and that can fuel the fire. Avoid this at all costs. You say your younger son is dom­i­neer­ing in the re­la­tion­ship. Ask your­self ob­jec­tively whether you are al­low­ing him too much lee­way. Keep a be­hav­iour diary over a week. Talk to your hus­band and come up with a way to be as ob­ser­vant as pos­si­ble about how the fights start, who starts them and what the trig­gers are. This will give you a clearer picture, in­stead of be­ing drawn into their ar­gu­ments and feel­ing like you’ve lost con­trol. It’s vi­tal you both speak as one voice.

Once you have that clar­ity, it’s time to set ground rules. You and your hus­band, pre­sent­ing a united front, ex­plain to your kids that you are ex­hausted by their end­less fight­ing and that you are go­ing to set bound­aries and teach them to man­age their be­hav­iour. Let them know you un­der­stand that it’s nat­u­ral for any re­la­tion­ship to en­counter con­flict at some point, but it’s how that con­flict is sorted out that mat­ters. Hold both equally re­spon­si­ble and tell them that there will be a new rou­tine when a fight starts - com­ing around the ta­ble, each party be­ing al­lowed to have their feel­ings ac­knowl­edged and then mov­ing to a point of re­pair. Such prob­lem-solv­ing skills will be es­sen­tial in adult­hood.

Be­yond this, it’s im­por­tant to spend time with each child in­di­vid­u­ally, so they both feel they are get­ting at­ten­tion. Make sure they know they both have strengths and tal­ents that, while they may not be the same, they are equally ap­pre­ci­ated.

RUS­SELL HEM­MINGS is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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