Siblings: Friends or Foes?

Siblings: Friends or Foes?

My sister and I (pictured) have always been best friends. Even as children, we never fought as often or as bitterly as I saw in my friends’ households, or as a babysitter now in clients’ homes. When I mentioned this smugly to my mother, Sandy, she responded matter-of-factly, “I did that deliberately.”

She told me that when she saw us arguing, she would approach the mediation from a space of “You two love each other, so something must have happened for you to fight.” This allowed us to take a step back and trace the argument to the source, instead of requiring Mom to take sides or try to be “fair.” It also helped us to see and therefore experience our relationship as primarily harmonious, with the occasional deviation. This formed a strong bond for us from a very young age that continues to this day, for which I am very grateful.

It also gave me a great way to approach conflicts between children that I work with. I have recently been watching 6-year-old twins during the day. They are very close, and it’s obvious from watching their interactions that they almost always favor cooperation over getting their own way.

I like to take them on adventures around town, which means a fair amount of car time. I’m a seasoned enough sitter to always have toys and music on hand, but after 4 days or so, fights started happening. They usually began playfully, with both girls laughing as they poked each other or stole a stuffed animal and retrieved it. When it began, I checked in with the sisters to make sure that it was purely a game. I’m normally OK with this kind of behavior–my ground rule is “As long as everyone is still having fun.” However, when it became evident that this kind of playful fighting would always lead to a real argument with hurt feelings, I gave them a new rule: no fighting in my car, even the playing kind.

I was reminding them of this rule just as another play fight quickly turned nasty, but they were too concerned with the argument to hear me. After getting their attention and reinforcing my limit, I said what I saw.

STRENGTH/SWYS: “I noticed that you guys are friends; you usually get along really well. You only start to fight when you get bored.”

I was expecting that I would then hear both sides and help them come to an amicable resolution. What actually happened was that they instantly stopped fighting and returned to the guessing game we had been playing. (!!!)

These kids are already light-years ahead of my sister and me. If this much can change in one generation, can you imagine what it will be like when every child constantly has his or her inner strengths pointed out? It gives me chills.


  1. cocochanel |

    Thanks for sharing Betsy! Its so helpful to see the language of listening from your point of view. Since reading this post I have been using this idea with my young daughter and her niece!

    • Cocochanel, Glad to hear it! It was great to be raised with these techniques, and it’s a lot of fun to share. We would love to hear more about what you’ve done with it. 🙂

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