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For Us, Nothing Stops Sibling Fighting Faster Than This

Photograph by Jill Simonian

Sibling fighting getting you down? The end of summer has me ready to scream with all the ... well ... screaming that's been happening. Every afternoon, around 2 p.m., things get loud and screechy on account of someone touching someone else's doll, someone taking someone else's box that the doll came in, or someone taking someone else's underwear (don't even ask). Every. Single. Afternoon.

My daughters truly are best friends who will literally giggle and play for hours, but when things go south they tank fast and hard.

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How to handle sibling fighting? For one, I now try to not let it bother me so much. Arguing is part of being a sibling. The key is knowing how to bounce back from it. I can't help but think of how my dad handled it with my clashing cousins back when I was a kid. (My sister and I really didn't fight that much, really ... )

Does absence make the heart grow fonder? It does at our house.

It was the late '80s and my family was on one of our annual summer vacations with all the cousins—six adults and seven kids, all crammed in one rented beach house. Every year, there would be a grand baseball tournament on the sand (that my sister and I usually opted out of in favor of building sand castles and sticking our mermaid dolls in them, but that's another story). And, every year, two particular cousins would go at each others' throats over bad calls, bad pitches and bad form in the name of good baseball. Mind you, we were all under the age of 10.

One day got particularly hostile. I remember watching my two (boy) cousins pretty much fist-fighting over "the ball" and how it was out ... or not out. They started yelling and then started getting physical. My dad jumped in, completely intolerable of all the bickering that had been happening between these two the entire week.

"Go ahead!" he hollered at them, handing them each a baseball bat. "Beat the shit out of each other! Right now!" The boys fell silent and shellshocked. "Beat each other right now. Beat each other up!"

He insisted they take the bats.

The boys stood still and didn't know what to do. The fighting stopped. The kids were scared to death (which soon turned into the biggest and funniest joke years later now when we all look back on it).

I've kept this memory tucked away and now bust it out when needed when my daughters start going at each other (not the cursing part but the philosophy behind it).

"If you don't like each other, get away from each other right now."

"No, Mommy! We're playing. But she won't let me have my ... "

I listen to them for about 20 seconds, matter-of-factly ask how x. y, z made each of them feel, encourage (OK, insist) each of them apologize for making the other one feel bad and then go into total mom-mode: "The rule now is that you're not allowed to play with each other—at all. Move. You, into the room to find something else. You, over there to play on your own. Go. You're not allowed to talk to each other at all." Obviously, I say this all with a very stern face and voice.

I'm finding that giving space between siblings is magical. (Even though my girls only split 16 months between their ages!)

Once separate, the girls usually complain about how they want to play with each other again.

"Oh no," I correct them. "You're not allowed to play with each other right now because you don't seem to like each other very much. If someone's making you feel sad or angry, the best thing to do is to find space away from them." (That's the parenting part I try to interject so perhaps they remember years later if and when they're dealing with a toxic friend or boyfriend.)

So, they take their space in separate areas of the house and find something else to do. After about 20 minutes, the same result rears its head: They find each other again and continue to play with said dolls like nothing ever happened.

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Does absence make the heart grow fonder? It does at our house. I don't pull them away from each other at this point, I figure it's part of developing the sibling relationship's mysterious bounce-back quality that keeps them best friends forever no matter what might happen. (As you might guess, I'm trying to avoid any and all uses of baseball bats ... )

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