When helping to curb siblings from their day-to-day arguments, you may find one or both of them denying what you absolutely know they did. Big brother walks past his little brother, and suddenly there is a downspout of tears from the younger. “I didn’t do anything” is often the lie you receive from the bigger, stronger, (or more vindictive) sibling. Particularly since he is obviously still fuming from perceived injustice from earlier in the day.
Understand that you probably won’t be able to get your child to admit to what he’s done. Try not to get into a power struggle over what’s happened. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Your first inclination is to “make him” admit to what he did by projecting your parental force on to the 4’2” child, but this won’t work. He knows that he has the element of “Mom wasn’t looking” on his side and he will not budge. So, instead, go to the source of why you are sure of what he did. When everyone has calmed down, have a talk with him. Say something like, “When I was growing up and I was mad at my brother for doing x, I would often walk past him and flick his ears.” This could be a good, gentle way to challenge a child’s faulty thinking. The acknowledgment that you felt the same way about your brother and understand the reasoning behind his actions will ease his mind, knowing that you once did the same thing. (But you already received consequences for it from your parents — now it’s his turn!)
In his mind, of course he should have hit his brother. The action made sense to him. “An eye for an eye” is his thinking pattern. However, you do not want him living by the laws of the jungle. You want him thinking about ways to solve problems and how his actions affect others. What might change because of his actions? His brother may not trust him. His brother may stop playing with him (this will bother some kids). You may not trust them to play alone anymore. Whatever will affect him the most in this situation, make sure he gets it — his actions were wrong.
As a rule, it’s good to talk to your kids about how to solve their issues. Encourage them to talk to you about what they are feeling so you can help them work it out. Teach them to be assertive and ask the other to stop bothering them. Particularly for the older child, teach him to go to another part of the house or to his room for privacy. Be sure to respect this area of the child’s domain. They are siblings and should not be expected to be around each other all the time. In extreme cases of conflict, I would suggest adopting the policy that if both are involved, both receive consequences. Your kids will be forced to work together to avoid consequences — and that can actually help cement a sense of togetherness.
About Dale Sadler
Dale Sadler is the author of 28 Days to A Better Marriage and How to Argue with Your Teen & Win. By day he works with middle schoolers and by night he is a family counselor specializing in marriage, parenting and men's issues. He works hard to be the husband and father his family needs. Follow him @DaleSadlerLPC or visit www.DaleSadler.net