Ask The Expert: How do I stop my two sons from fighting with each other?
Siblings fighting can drive parents mad. However, as a psychologist explains, tackling it from a fresh angle can make a big difference.
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.''