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Parents being fair with children, yet they continue to fight

  • Sibling rivalry is at its worst when there is an inadequate system of justice.

Question: I’ve been very careful to be fair with my children and give them no reason to resent one another. Nevertheless, they continue to fight. What can I do?

Answer: The problem may rest in your lack of disciplinary control at home. Sibling rivalry is at its worst when there is an inadequate system of justice among children – where the “lawbreakers” do not get caught or if apprehended, are set free without standing trial. It is important to understand that laws in a society are established and enforced for the purpose of protecting people from each other. Likewise, a family is a mini society with the same requirement for protection of human rights.

As indicated, individual families are similar to societies in their need for law and order. In the absence of justice, “neighboring” siblings begin to assault one another. The older child is bigger and tougher, which allows him to oppress his younger brothers and sisters. But the junior member of the family is not without weapons of his own. He strikes back by breaking the toys and prized possessions of the older sibling and interfering when friends are visiting. Mutual hatred then erupts like an angry volcano, spewing its destructive contents on everyone in its path.

In many homes, the parents do not have sufficient disciplinary control to enforce their judgments. In others, they are so exasperated with constant bickering among siblings that they refuse to get involved. In still others, parents require on older child to live with an admitted injustice “because your brother is smaller than you.” Thus, they tie his hands and render him utterly defenseless against the mischief of his bratty little brother or sister. Even more commonly today, mothers and fathers are both working while their children are home busily disassembling each other.

I will say it again to parents: One of your most important responsibilities is to establish an equitable system of justice and a balance of power at home. There should be reasonable “laws” that are enforced fairly for each member of the family. For purposes of illustration, let me list the boundaries and rules that evolved through the years in my own home.

1. Neither child was ever allowed to make fun of the other in a destructive way. Period! This was an inflexible rule with no exceptions.

2. Each child’s room was his or her private territory. There were locks on both doors, and permission to enter was a revocable privilege. (Families with more than one child in each bedroom can allocate available living space for each youngster).

3. The older child was not permitted to tease the younger child.

4. The younger child was forbidden to harass the older child.

5. The children were not required to play with each other when they preferred to be alone or with other friends.

6. We mediated any genuine conflict as quickly as possible, being careful to show impartiality and extreme fairness.

As with any plan of justice, this plan requires (1) children’s respect for leadership of the parent, (2) willingness by the parent to mediate, (3) occasional enforcement of punishment. When this approach is accomplished with love, the emotional tone of the home can be changed from one of hatred to (at least) tolerance.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and the Questions and Answers are extracted from "Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide" with permission. For more information, please contact:

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