The One Thing You Shouldn't Do When Siblings Fight (According To A Blame Expert)

Whether they're five or 25 years old, this is what parents should avoid doing during a household war, according to a blame expert.
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There are so many reasons why siblings fight. But when they do, for the parents stuck in between, it can be a pretty stressful time.

Whether it’s a five-year-old and seven-year-old fighting over who gets to use a certain toy or an ongoing war between older siblings over money, it’s never a pleasant experience.

While there are many things parents can do in this situation, there’s one thing that Denis Liam Murphy, a high performance coach and author of The Blame Game: How To Recover From The World’s Oldest Addiction, recommends parents don’t do.

And that’s telling siblings to just apologise.

“Instead of relying on apologies as a quick fix, it is important to address the fundamental cause of the conflict,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“Apologies can be helpful, but most of the time they are superficial and act as a bandaid.”

He’s right. Research of adult couples in the US found when they felt forced to say sorry to their partner before they were ready, it didn’t help the relationship. If anything, it made things worse – some even resented each other because of it.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for apologising, but Murphy points out it is often “the go to solution” – and we rely on it too heavily.

“It feels natural to tell siblings to, ‘just say sorry!’ We were told it by our parents, so we just pass on the same instruction ... It doesn’t seem like such an important point until you realise, sorry is another word for ‘I made a mistake’ (self-blame),” he explains.

“How often do you think you say sorry in a day? Once, twice, 20 times? What if I told you to replace sorry with ‘I made a mistake’. How do you feel your self-confidence would be impacted after saying that all day, all week or all month?”

He suggests overusing the word ‘sorry’ is one of the main reasons people’s self-confidence is so low.

“And the point is, it is very difficult for two honestly self-confident people to have an argument. There is less insecurity, and too much empathy, awareness and openness to fuel conflict,” he says.

Studies have even found that people who don’t apologise showed signs of greater self-esteem, increased feelings of power and integrity.

Others have similar opinions on being too quick to say sorry. Psychotherapist Beverly Engel, who wrote The Power Of An Apology, suggested by over-apologising, people send the message they lack confidence and are ineffectual.

“It can even give a certain kind of person permission to treat you poorly, or even abuse you,” she said, according to CNBC.

Experts at Aha! Parenting suggest rather than focusing on saying sorry, it’s better to help siblings communicate their wants and needs, and to encourage them to listen to each other.

And in the case of younger siblings, it’s definitely key to wait until any anger has subsided to get started.

You might also want to suggest ideas for repairing the situation – but leave it to the siblings to decide what they actually do, rather than forcing anything on them.

Are we addicted to blaming others (and ourselves)?

Murphy believes blame has become an “addiction” that we all share without realising it. “The reality is, conflict and blame are directly correlated – the more we blame, the more conflict we experience,” he says.

“From an early age, siblings learn how to assign blame and become experts at it. They are quick to point fingers at the smallest issues, not realising that this habit creates a deep sense of victimhood that only exacerbates conflicts.”

With this in mind, what can parents do to help warring siblings?

1. Gain a fresh perspective

Step back each time they are warring and take in as much information as you can, suggests Murphy.

“When we are in a state of blame we shut down and revert to black and white thinking. We look for the quick fix rather than a bigger picture solution.”

But when we are out of blame, our default is curiosity, creativity and empathy, he suggests. And in this state of mind, “wars have no fuel to grow.”

What’s more, he suggests if it’s practised often, then there is no fuel to start more arguments.

2. Reframe your thinking

With our kids, we might have ideas about who they are (that aren’t necessarily positive) – for instance, they’re always late, they never listen, they are mean, they never do anything to help.

Murphy encourages parents to “become aware of anything you have accepted as true about them.”

“It is not about rewording them into something you think is positive, it is about building up an awareness that we are different everyday,” he says.

3. Practise self-honesty

Probably the most challenging tip from Murphy is for parents to recognise themselves in their kids when these arguments crop up.

“They have both your lines of DNA in them, so it makes sense they are constantly reflecting back to you the parts you don’t like about yourself (and the parts you do),” he explains.

“Kids are your constant mirrors. When you like being in front of them, they are reflecting back parts you like about yourself. And when you don’t, well, you know the answer to that.”

When you have those later moments, when you blame them and are angry or stressed with what they’re doing, he encourages self-reflection.

“Once you realise you are the one that needs to self-heal from your self-blame addiction, then your kids will start reflecting back more the self-love and honest confidence you have for yourself,” he suggests.

4. And if all else fails, give them space

“Giving space is paramount to their development,” says Murphy. “However, what they do in that space is the key to success. Most of the time, because we have an unknown addiction playing out, children (and adults) either beat themselves up or find ways to get revenge for thinking others were the reason they are mad or in trouble.

“Self-reflection on their self-honesty is going to be so much more beneficial. Part of the blame recovery process is learning how to access your imagination as it is a great place to hang out and heal. If this was part of that time apart, then so much more effortless resolution and peace would be observed.”