HOW TO PREVENT A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE

An early mid-summer morning. Life is at a virtual standstill but for the sounds of peepers, an occasional panting dog... and children arguing and fighting. It does not take long for children out of the highly structured school environment to become bored. Boredom. A real problem if you're a kid. This was not part of the daydream that emerged daily for weeks during the "countdown"-- the end of school; a growing vision of excitement, fun, freedom! And now, this. "Billy! Leave the TV. alone, I'm watching that!" "But you're always watching TV. I want to play a video game!" "Mom!!!"...
Parents would love their children to play happily together all the time. After all, there's no school. But for occasional chores, there are no major stressors for twelve weeks. Nothing ahead but sunny days and blue skies. But "child" cannot live on swimming and ice cream alone! So there's picking on each other. Not coincidentally, siblings who fight also force parents to pay attention to them. Each child loves and depends upon a parent for nurturance, guidance, acceptance. As such, he (she) constantly strives to gain the favor of that parent. Sharing toys and household space is hard enough for children. Sharing the favor of one you love and respect-- a parent-- is much harder. Hence, sibling rivalry. That's right. Very often, no matter what they seem to be fighting about, it's you! They are the contestants and you are the prize. Think not? Leave the house and watch how quickly they work things out.
 "I can't leave them alone-- they'll kill each other! Besides I'm a mother, being the sheriff is my job."
As a parent, it's perfectly natural for you, loving your children, to want those children to love each other and be best friends all the time. After all, didn't you plan it that way? You went through the trouble of having a second (or third) child to promote companionship and guarantee friends for life. Yet, although we can encourage siblings to play happily and show love sometime, we cannot legislate their feelings. They typically have very strong positive and negative feelings toward each other.
At times a parent can help a child understand and even alter negative feelings toward a sibling. An essential aspect of this process is gaining the respect and trust of the child, which can be accomplished by accepting-- not ridiculing or punishing-- his (her) feelings toward another sibling. In short, the fact that your children are not loving playmates all the time and, in fact, fight frequently, is quite normal. However, despite their rivalry there are some strategies you can try to prevent them from razing your home by summer's end.
1- Look before you leap. If you insist on being the sheriff, make the children deputies and let them police themselves. Remember, in effect, you are the prize for which they are fighting. Thus, your attention is highly reinforcing and will likely increase the number and types of disagreements. In contrast, many sibling squabbles resolve themselves more quickly sans parental involvement. In other words, by IGNORING! An essential part of the learning process for certain individuals is "mismatching" or looking for exceptions to a rule. When is something NOT TRUE? In this case, "Ignore them? Let them solve their own problems? What if one kid starts a fire or picks up a sharp object?" Ignoring means allowing others to believe you are paying no attention. Being reluctant to intervene does not mean never intervening. Use your judgment.
2- You are the law. Speak softly, but carry a big stick! Enforcing rules implies their existence. You need to create, then enforce rules that promote safety. You might call this, "management by objectives." By clearly stating the conditions under which you will intervene, then doing so if necessary, you are creating parameters for children to resolve their own disputes. For example, "You guys don't have to always like each other, and may choose to argue, but fist-fighting or throwing of any objects will be met with severe punishment! Does anyone have a question?" Typically, parents operate through what might be termed "management by crisis." For example, upon hearing a disagreement, bursting in and asking The Question. The one that only reinforces their presence in children's problems... and increases parental gastrointestinal distress: "All right! Who started it?" (This also fosters group participation!) In contrast, a house-rule is a "cue" that certain behavior will lead to a consequence. It also indicates what behavior is acceptable. Furthermore, it promotes the parent as a legitimate enforcer, fair, but capable of intervening in a meaningful way.