They say it’s always the guy who throws the second punch in a fight who gets caught, not the first. Hopefully, your children aren’t actually throwing punches at each other when they argue. The point is that in many cases, both parties have some responsibility when an argument ends badly. Do you ask enough questions to find out what really happened?
Let’s say one of your children hit the other, and the child who got hit told on their sibling. Well obviously, you’ll have something to say to the child who was doing the hitting. But the real situation may be more than an innocent victim being attacked by an aggressor. You need to take one more step. Ask both kids what was happening the moments leading up to the hitting incident. Be prepared for some dodging and weaving – this kind of deep specific questioning can make a kid squirm when they know they really had some part of the problem.
First, calmly ask the child who got hit the entire story of how the fight developed. What was said, what were the emotions, what were people doing – you need to get a picture in your mind about how the aggression built up. Keep in mind that once it reaches verbal aggression, it’s very likely to go to physical from there. Tell the child that got hit that it is really important that you get the complete truth from everyone, and that you are going to get the story from your other child too.
Then talk to the other child that was accused of the hitting. They already know they are in trouble and may not feel like they have much to lose by being pretty honest. You may find that the stories match well – be sure you review it with them as they’ve said it and clarify what did or didn’t happen so you are straight. If you find something new, then you’ll have something to go back with to the other child. You might learn that the child who got hit was provoking their sibling or did something physically aggressive that they didn’t
admit to. It wouldn’t excuse the hitting child from their actions, but it does make the other child more responsible for setting up an aggressive exchange.
Let me make something clear. If you know that the hitting child has a pretty consistent problem with aggression across the board, then you do need to take steps to protect the child who has gotten hit. They need to know how to avoid provoking the aggressive child. Also, you may need to really step up the supervision when the aggressive child is around siblings. But in many cases, kids in a sibling conflict can both claim some responsibility.
I have found on more than one occasion (with my kids) that the person claiming to be a victim did something to make an aggressive response more likely. Not always, and I have found that stories of victim/aggressor to match up well between siblings. But most of the time, everyone has had something to think about when it’s all said and done. Often, the supposed victim has complained more about their consequences than the sibling who they originally accused. So don’t be afraid to put on your detective hat, use a calm low voice, and get to the bottom of it.