Yael Schneerson, Beis Moshiach
Sibling rivalry is quite commonplace and even normal. A child learning to communicate with his environment and his family, later with society through his school and neighborhood, represents a “small” preparation for what he can expect in the outside world. Through life’s struggles, he learns how to interact with people, what to do when others don’t agree with his opinion, and how to deal with a situation where he and his friend or anyone else, both want the same thing.
So yes, it’s nothing to get to overworked about, but what is our place as parents in making these fights as “educational” as possible? We spoke to a few veteran mothers and morahs on how they handle these situations as they come up (and come up they do…), and we came back with some ideas for you too.
GETTING TO THE ROOT OF DISPUTE
“As long as there is no actual violence, we should not get involved,” says Chaya, an experienced mother. “The children will learn to get along much better with one another when we don’t interfere in their squabbles. In the final analysis, since we won’t always be there for them, they will have to learn how to conduct themselves in moments of conflict. Here, at home, is their opportunity to try their hand in a secure location. Eventually, siblings make peace and forgive one another.”
“In my opinion, arguments between children are divided into several types,” claims Efrat, a mother of a large family, a kindergarten teacher by profession. “There are the mild disputes, those that if we interfere, it will only worsen the situation. These are arguments designed solely to get the parents’ attention. In such a case, we get ourselves involved, try to listen, reach a compromise, mediate, etc., and then the children enjoy a few minutes of Mommy’s undivided attention. In truth, however, arguments of this type are best resolved without our interference. As a result, the children will stop fighting far more quickly, because if Mommy ignores the matter, the fight will not achieve its desired objective.
“In contrast, we should pay close attention to those sharp and prolonged clashes, whether it’s a case of one or two children who are constantly fighting. In such an instance, we have to consider what’s happening with this child. Is he seeking some other form of attention? Would it then be appropriate to give him that attention in other ways, thereby removing the possibility of his being dragged into violence? On other occasions, we will likely discover that a certain child has a social problem. There are children who have a hard time learning how to compromise, as they think that everything belongs to them. They are unwilling to share with anyone, quite characteristic of children aged one or two years old. However, if a child continues to act in this fashion, we need to teach him how to communicate with other children.
“Similarly, it’s important to take note that we usually ask the older children to make concessions to their younger siblings. Sometimes, this creates a situation where the older children feel deprived. ‘Why do I always have to be the one to give in, while the little ones get used to the idea that they’re entitled to everything?’ Thus, when they come to kindergarten, surrounded by children of their own age group, they find it difficult to share with others, as they have become accustomed to everyone always letting them have their way… Every mother has to learn how to maintain proper balance and be precise in the number of concessions she requests from each of her children.
“Naturally, if the dispute is dragged ch”v into a place of verbal or physical violence, we should immediately get involved and stop the fight. This is a general principle that must be made clear to our children. Even if you’re right – you do not use such methods to obtain what is yours.”
NIPPING FIGHTS IN THE BUD
“From my personal experience, we can prevent a sizable percentage of our children’s quarrels, if we teach them the rules of proper conduct and communication. Teaching such principles should not be done at a moment of anger and strife. As we learn from the well-known teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, ‘Do not appease your friend at the height of his anger’ – rather, we should conduct a theoretical discussion with the children at a calm moment. How do we achieve this? What does a child do when a sibling or friend wants the same toy or book that he does? It’s important to let the children think and try to find the solutions on their own. Talk about solutions and understand what is correct and what is not. For the younger children, it’s also possible to make a simulated game, better illustrating how to act in order not to start a fight.
“This discussion is not meant to be a one-time event,” Efrat clarifies. “We have to repeat the process several times in accordance with the children’s age and level of understanding. Afterwards, during a moment of strife or dispute, before things start getting heated, we should stop and gently remind the children, ‘Do you remember what we discussed yesterday? What do we do when two children want the same thing? Who can think of a solution?’ After the children have trained themselves in such matters, it will be easier for them to come to this situation and assimilate their training within their activities.
MEDITATION IN THE TRADITION OF AHARON
“Older children are capable of learning the technique of mediating disputes. Mediation is essentially a modern approach for what has existed in Yiddishkeit for thousands of years, even in the days of Aharon HaKohen, regarding whom it is said, ‘A lover of peace, a pursuer of peace.’ In mediation, a third party not involved in the dispute tries to help the two sides reach a compromise and a solution that will satisfy each of them.
“Incidentally, in the special sicha of Parashas Mishpatim 5752, the Rebbe speaks of compromise as a powerful tool to bring peace the like of which will reign in the world in the time of Moshiach.
“The machinery standing as a foundation for the mediation process is based upon three questions: What should be changed? Into what should it be changed? How should we make the change?
“At the outset, the mediator listens to what each side wants and enables them to hear what the opposing side feels.
“At the next stage, the mediator tries to understand what needs stand behind the desires of each side. (For example, I want a certain pen because it’s much easier for me to write with, and I need it now to prepare my homework. Someone else wants this pen to draw with in order to develop his drawing skills.) This leads us to the question: What changes should be made?
“Here we understand that while each side has a need to use the pen, it would be illogical for both to do so at the same time. It’s necessary to check what to change in order to satisfy both sides.
“At this point, each side makes its own proposal on what to change. What alternative way can we find that will be acceptable to both parties?
“Finally, how should we make the change? We must find a mutually agreeable solution. For example, each side accepts that preparing homework is more urgent and preferable, and therefore, I’ll use it to do my homework first and then I’ll give to you to draw with.
“While the above example is a rather simple one, the underlying concept also works in more complex disputes.
“The job of the mediator is to help the two sides by listening and asking directed questions to reach a solution – without judging, criticizing, or compelling anyone.
“We can teach this technique to the older children and let them serve as mediators in disputes between them. In this manner, they learn how to solve problems on their own, how to be attentive to the needs and desires of others, and how to reach an objective in the ways of pleasantness and the ways of peace,” she concludes.
With Hashem’s help, in the merit of instilling peace between our children and ourselves, we will merit the True and Complete Redemption immediately, mamash, now. “May His peace place upon us blessing and peace.”
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