Sibling Rivalry, Controlling (cont.)
If it really does look like someone is going to get hurt and you feel like you must intervene, then it makes sense not to try to figure out who started it, but to help both children settle down by sending each to their room or putting them both on time-out.
At this age, the time-out really doesn't need to be very long at all. It also is not helpful to offer the time-out as a punishment because that just pushes the child to rebel against it and a child is not going to stand the time-out if they can't be engaged to do it. So instead, offer it as what they need to calm themselves down. Then the amount of time that you set up for them really depends on how long it takes them to settle themselves. You can tell them, "Look, you're both on time-out until you can get yourselves under control and calm down enough so we don't have anymore of this fighting." Of course there will be fighting but hopefully they can hold it together for another 20 or 30 minutes, and that means that at least that particular cycle is broken .
I guess what I would wonder about with you is whether or not there are any moments where they do actually get along, look to each other with admiration or for support or guidance. Or even as they fight, still imitate or identify as a sign that they may care about each other more than they outwardly seem to.
You certainly can't make two siblings get along more than they do but there are some things that a parent can try, to avoid to keep from intensifying the conflict between siblings. In the book that I wrote with Dr. Brazelton, we have a section on comparing and competition. Those are both things that parents can feed into. That can intensify sibling conflict unnecessarily. I would recommend that you avoid talking about one sibling with the other. Avoid picking out one for punishment for anything that both have had some involvement in. Focus on the strengths of each of them without comparison. These at least are ways of keeping your role as a parent from making whatever tension there is between them even worse.
On the other hand, if we deny that these "negative feelings" exist, we make our children more frightened of them and deprive them of the experience of learning to handle them and to grow stronger as they learn to handle them.
I certainly agree that telling a child to bite another child is a very confusing message for the child. And certainly there are so many other ways to teach a child to defend himself and stand up for himself.
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