Monday through Friday, after my kids get home from school, my house is filled with mostly joyful noise... until it’s not. Before I know it, my children's giggles quickly turn to screams of "Mom! Mom!" and I'm filled with the instinct to run and hide. I try to leave my kids to their own devices, because I truly believe they need to learn to resolve conflict on their own. But every now and then, duty calls and I have to intervene. In the end, and even when it's exhausting, there are times when you have to pay attention to sibling arguments.
My rules for getting involved in sibling arguments are pretty simple, and require answers to the following questions: Is somebody hurt? Do they legitimately need my help? Are they being destructive, disruptive, or unsafe? If the answer is "yes" to any or all of the above, I definitely get involved. After all, they're kids and from time to time adult supervision is required. So if they come to me and they need help settling an argument, I will oblige. Do they always agree with my rulings? Nope, but if anything that's just an additional incentive for them to figure things out on their own.
Unless they actually require my assistance, my kids are on their own. Tattling to mom or having me break up every disagreement won’t teach them how to fight their own battles, or help them resolve their arguments peacefully. But sometimes assistance is required, especially in the following circumstances:
Someone Is Hurt
No, I’m not talking about when my son reports that his sister "hit me," "gave me the middle finger," or my least favorite, "is looking at me," because these things happen every day.
But, there of been times when our kids have actually hurt each other in the course of an sibling argument. And when that has happened I have definitely gotten involved. It’s my job to keep them safe, and unfortunately that has included keeping them safe from each other or rescuing an injured child from their siblings. Like, for example, the time when my middle kids thought it was funny to slam their 3-year-old brother’s finger in the door the day before Thanksgiving. Not cool, guys.
They Use Inappropriate Words
I'm not talking about swearing. I don't often police my kid's language, as long as they don’t use those words to hurt other people. So, if I hear of them calling names, I might intervene if I believe those insults go too far. Mainly, I don't want them using racist, ableist, or sexist words — like the "n" word or the "r" word, or b*tch. We don’t use those words in our house, and if I hear them we are definitely going to have a talk about it.
They Ask For Help
Don’t get me wrong, while I hate hearing "I'm telling mom" over and over again, I’m actually more than willing to get involved if my kids politely ask me for help.
My kids have learned, however, that when mom holds family court her rulings often involve both parties having to apologize, do something kind, help mom with extra chores, or all of the above. As a result, my kids have learned to try to figure things out on their own first.
Someone Else's Kid Is Involved
While my rules work well in our home and with our family, if another kid is involved in a conflict I might have to intervene. Usually that intervention is short-lived and really just a way for me to assess whether it’s time for my children's friend to go home. But there have been times when I've had to involve other parents, too.
There's An Unequal Power Dynamic
I've learned that my hands-off approach to conflict resolution works in situations where both kids understand what’s happening and are on an even playing field. It doesn’t work, however, when a tween is picking on a preschooler or toddler, or trying to blame their mess on their baby brother. I will always intervene if a little kid needs my help.
They Can't Control Themselves
My daughter's mental illness can sometimes get in the way of her ability to solve problems, especially if she's in the middle of a heated moment. So, if she is too far gone in a meltdown, or overcome with emotion during an argument, I will remove her from the situation to help her calm down.
They Are Not Safe
The way I see it, my primary job as a parent is to raise tiny humans to adulthood. And, of course, that means I have to intervene if there's a substantial risk my kids will end up hurt. Like, for example, if they think it’s a good idea to lock their sibling in a closet, toy box, or outside in bad weather. The same goes for daring a sibling to eat or drink something gross or dangerous. Or worse, playing a game where they punch each other in the stomach. Seriously, where the kids come up with the stuff?
They Are Being Disruptive
It’s one thing if my kids want to fight or bicker with each other outside, but, honestly, I’m so damn tired of hearing it all day long. So, for my own mental wellbeing, I will definitely get involved... at least long enough to send them out or in opposite corners of the house.
They Play The Mom Card
If I hear one of my kids attributing something to me, I think it’s only fair to set the record straight. So, if I hear "mom said I could" or "mom is going to be so mad," I might just intervene. If they invoke my name, they're practically asking for it.