Parenting kids who get along is much easier than constantly having to step in and mediate arguments and fights. Training children how to resolve sibling rivalry amicably and get along puts less emotional stress on their parents. It turns out that it might also help parents, especially mothers, manage their own stress too.
According to Niyantri Ravindran, a graduate student at the University of Illinois and lead author of the study, as siblings fight with one another, they learn lessons such as how to settle their differences, negotiate and compromise. They also start to see arguments and fights as problems to which there are solutions. Ravindran and his co-researchers were keen to find out if parents too were affected by the positive changes in their children.
In the study, parents watched as their children participated in a program called More Fun with Sisters and Brothers. The program teaches siblings to work out their issues and get along. It is overseen by co-author Laurie Kramer, a professor of applied family studies at the university.
“We sometimes have to be very intentional and teach our children how to interact well with each other. We can’t expect young children to figure out how to manage these complex relationships on their own,” Kramer explained.
The program consisted of five sessions where four to eight-year-olds were taught social and emotional skills that help maintain good sibling relationships. For example, the children were taught how to see an issue from their sibling’s perspective, ways to gauge different emotions and talk about them and how to be calm even when overwhelmed by emotion. Parents watched these sessions and also received literature and activities to help guide the children further at home on how to handle sibling conflict.
A control group consisted of parents of children who were not in the program. Those parents did not get any additional materials or resources.
Both mothers and fathers of kids in the conflict-solving program said that the negative feelings they felt when their offspring fought declined as their kids learned to limit conflict. Moreover, the mothers, who watched the children during the sessions and did the at-home activities with them, also learned the lessons of the program. They were then able to apply those lessons in their own dealings with the children during squabbles, thus getting better at managing their emotions during high-stress times.
“Many parents, especially mothers, use how their kids are getting along as a barometer for how well they’re doing as a parent. This is true even though virtually all siblings have some conflict,” said Kramer.
“Mothers appear to have incorporated the skills their children were taught into the way they manage their own emotions. For example, they were significantly more likely to reframe their children’s bickering as a normal and manageable part of the sibling relationship and were less likely to let their emotions interfere with being an effective parent,” Kramer said.
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