"We can't expect kids to be able to
resolve conflicts if we don't give them the skills to do it," said
the professor of family studies at the University of Illinois.
"Sometimes we have to be very strategic and teach our children how
to interact well with each other."
Kramer said that parents often focus on
eliminating undesirable behaviors when it would be better to promote
desirable ones. In her lab, she teaches siblings some important
skills that can contribute to their "emotional intelligence" as
adults. "These skills are important enough for parents to coach,"
The researcher said that children can
learn a lot in the sibling relationship and that it's important that
siblings get along. "Research shows that one of the most significant
predictors of a person's emotional health at age 65 is his closeness
to his siblings when he was college age," she said.
In Kramer's first program, Fun with
Sisters and Brothers, social, emotional and relational skills were
taught to groups of siblings, the oldest child aged 4 to 7 and the
youngest child between 9 months and 2 years. "When babies become
mobile, older sibs become territorial. That's an early opportunity
for parents to teach some important skills."
In her second program, More Fun with
Sisters and Brothers, older siblings are from 6 to 8 years old and
their younger brothers and sisters are aged 4 to 6 years. When an
argument occurs in either group, children are taught to stop, think
When a squabble begins, children learn
that they should first stop what they are doing. "This keeps them
from acting impulsively and doing something counterproductive."
Next children are taught to "think."
Children figure out what they would like to have happen in a
situation and consider what their sibling would like to have happen.
A sign showing two eyes with red glitter eyelashes says it's time to
"see it your way, see it my way," a chance to practice seeing a
problem from their sibling's perspective.
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One child may say, "I'd really like to
use the green crayon right now because I'm coloring some grass." The
other child shows he understands the first child's point of view,
then explains his own: "I only need the green crayon for two minutes
to finish this picture."
Children are also taught to identify
and regulate their emotions. "When children feel really frustrated,
they may not know what to do with that feeling. They may interpret
it as anger, and it may lead them to fight," she said.
They also learn how to "chill," she
said, "which can be anything from taking deep breaths, counting to
10 or taking a walk to release some energy. We give children a lot
of choices about how to chill because certain strategies work better
for some kids than others, especially if they're having intense
The third step is talking so siblings
can tell each other what they'd like to have happen and work
together to figure out a solution to the problem instead of acting
it out physically, said Kramer.
Kramer encourages parents to give
children steps to take and words to use to help them solve their
conflicts. "It's probably unrealistic to think parents can lead
their children through these steps every time kids start to bicker.
"But sometimes parents need to step in,
not to solve the conflict, but to say, 'OK, let's use our steps to
solve this problem.' Give them a structure to use so they learn to
do it themselves," she said.
can learn to solve problems, deal with frustrations and tolerate the
negative emotions that surround conflict, those skills will be very
helpful in other relationships down the road," Kramer said.
[University of Illinois news