ask the ex­pert

The Chronicle - - Family Health -

Q MY two young sons are quite close in age, and are al­ways fight­ing and ar­gu­ing. Is there any way I can stop this be­hav­iour – I’m scared one of them will get re­ally hurt.

A CLIN­I­CAL psy­chol­o­gist Linda Blair, au­thor of Sib­lings: How To han­dle Sibling Ri­valry To Cre­ate Strong And Lov­ing Bonds (White Lad­der Press, £12.99), says: “This is an in­ter­est­ing prob­lem, be­cause in truth I sus­pect this is an ex­am­ple of sibling co­op­er­a­tion, rather than sibling ri­valry. The two of them, it seems, have learned how to work to­gether to gain your at­ten­tion.

“Start by think­ing about your own be­hav­iour. When the boys are set­tled and co­op­er­a­tive, do you breathe a sigh of re­lief and turn to some­thing you want to do for your­self?

“Do you con­tinue un­til you hear them ar­gu­ing, then go to them in dis­tress? If so, you are in ef­fect re­ward­ing the ar­gu­ing and ig­nor­ing the be­hav­iour you re­ally want.

“There­fore, when­ever they’re co­op­er­at­ing, you need to give them some praise and at­ten­tion. When they ar­gue, on the other hand, sep­a­rate them im­me­di­ately, with­out scold­ing or show­ing you’re up­set.

“Tell them they can come back to­gether as soon as they’ve thought of a way to get along (this may take some time at first).

“When they’re calm and be­hav­ing well, praise them, and per­haps of­fer them both a priv­i­lege – go­ing to a film at the week­end, for ex­am­ple – as a re­ward for be­ing so nice to each other. This is a big ask, I know, be­cause it means that for now, you may end up with less time to do the things you want to do.

“It may mean you have to re­think your usual habits and rou­tines, to find time for your­self more of­ten when the boys are at school or in bed. But this is a rel­a­tively short-term in­vest­ment, and one that will pay ex­cel­lent long-term div­i­dends.

“Fi­nally, think care­fully about how you re­spond to other peo­ple, es­pe­cially when you’re feel­ing un­com­fort­able or bored.

“Do you ‘tease’ oth­ers? Teas­ing is close to in­sult­ing. It’s a way of re­leas­ing ag­gres­sion, and it can be very hurt­ful.

“Per­haps you need to re­act to other peo­ple in a kinder, more com­pas­sion­ate way, es­pe­cially in front of your chil­dren.”

Fight­ing be­tween sib­lings can be hard to han­dle

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