LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
With regard to the article by Melanie Killen and Marina Cords (Macrosope, May–June), I'd like to relate an observation from my own experience. In 1984 I was blessed with a set of triplets, two identical girls and a boy. By the time they were about two years old, of course they were
playing with one another and had started to refer disputes to their mother and me. ("Mommy/Daddy, he/she ... etc.") We quickly figured out that the task of judging was hopeless, and once ascertaining that there was no blood drawn,
we would tell them to work it out themselves.
Fast-forward about eight years. Three 10-year-olds come to Dad and want to watch a movie from my extensive collection. I gave them the index to my collection and then listened, fascinated, as the three of them spent a full half-hour negotiating, mediating, arbitrating, trying out different
solutions, floating trial balloons, until they finally arrived at a solution they were all happy with. I wish our "statesmen" were as skilled.
Drs. Killen and Cords reply:
In fact, detailed observations of sibling interactions support these personal reflections. Studies on sibling conflict have shown that siblings are much better at negotiating disputes with one another in the absence, not
the presence, of their parents (Killen, ed., 1996, New Directions for Child Development vol. 6). In one study, parents who were seeking therapy because they were concerned that leaving their children alone would result in aggressive outbreaks were asked to observe their children's behavior through a one-way mirror and on videotape. Much to
the parents' surprise, their children demonstrated a wide range of creative and non-aggressive strategies for resolving interpersonal disputes. This straightforward technique proved to be a helpful therapeutic tool for
parents. After all, parents rarely have the opportunity to observe their children's behavior in their absence.
Research has also shown that not all conflicts are the same. Adult intervention may be required for conflicts arising from children inflicting harm on each other, whereas conflicts about distributing resources, sharing
toys or taking turns may be good candidates for adult "non-intervention" or "redirection" ("Can you figure out how to solve this on your own?"). Thus, we're not advocating that adults refrain from intervention in all instances
of peer or sibling conflict, but rather that adults pay close attention to the source of the dispute and then think about how to intervene (for example, redirection, assistance with negotiation or explanations of what makes the act wrong).