Vayishalach for Tots: Let Them Argue

Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4−36:43

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

Esau, though, ran to greet him (Jacob) and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

-Vayishlach 33:4

Try, Try Again!

It is only natural that parents want their children to get along with their siblings and with other children. When conflicts arise, it is painful for parents to watch their children hurl insult or injury, unwilling or unable to figure out how to resolve their differences.

We know that a kind word or compliment from one sibling to another can have a long-lasting, positive influence. Conversely, a slight, whether small or large, can make us doubt ourselves for years to come, if not permanently.

Perhaps you've tried enforcing a "no fighting" rule in your house with consequences and perhaps "time outs" spelled out clearly. While trying to enforce a "no fighting" rule sounds good in theory, however, reality dictates that children undoubtedly will have issues with their siblings or other children.

In Parashat Vayishlach, brothers Jacob and Esau are reunited, after being separated for 20 years. Dishonesty led Jacob to steal his older brother's birthright, and from that point forward, until this parashah, the brothers did not speak nor did they see each other. As the plans for the reunion developed, it was clear that Jacob feared for his life, convinced that Esau intended to end his younger brother's life. Fortunately, Jacob's prediction did not come true. Their meeting was tender, but unfortunately they remained enemies after the reunion.

We know that siblings fight with each other for many reasons, including individual temperaments, age differences, developmental differences, or children's unique talents and abilities. Each of these factors contributes to how and why children argue with each other. However, children also learn from their parents, who provide the model for resolving differences and communicating with others.

By teaching or encouraging our children to argue productively with each other, we help them learn to navigate through these confrontational waters, providing them with tools that they can use throughout their lives. Several strategies might be used in helping your children learn to resolve their differences and get along with their siblings or childhood friends.

One of the most significant ways you can help your child learn to handle disagreements gracefully is by modeling this kind of behavior. When you have issues with your own siblings, family, friends, colleagues and even people

in your community, demonstrate your willingness to consider other perspectives and use language that clearly communicates your respect for the other parties involved. This will set the stage for how your own children resolve issues they have with others. Observing your behavior as you work successfully through your own intrapersonal issues undoubtedly will have a huge effect on your children's ability to do the same.

Encouraging your children to express their anger in a safe, consequence-free environment can provide them with skills that will benefit them for years to come. When your children fight with each other, you can insert questions such as, "How do you think you would feel if your brother didn't let you play with his toys?" This might be enough to change the direction of the argument while keeping you from having to step in as an umpire attempting to resolve the conflict. Comments such as, "I never liked fighting with my sister-I'm hoping the two of you can come to an agreement," can help redirect the argument and show your support. If one sibling is more skilled at debating than another, sometimes it helps to have a parent say, "Please remember to let your sister have a turn to speak." And finally, sometimes staying neutral or sitting back and allowing your children to find their own way through a disagreement can be the very thing needed to solve their problem.

The issue may not be how to discourage our children from fighting. Rather, our job as parents is to help them learn how to disagree in a safe and productive manner so that all parties involved feel satisfied, even if it means being willing to "agree to disagree."

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Do you have a "no fighting" rule in your house? If so, is it effective?
  2. What is your method(s) for derailing arguments between your children (or between your child and his or her friends)?
  3. Can you recall an argument you had recently with a friend, sibling or co-worker? Do you remember arguing with this person in front of your children or speaking to others about this disagreement in your children's presence? Do you think that you modeled the kind of behavior you hope for your children?

Questions for Children:

  1. What happens when you and your sister or brother (or friend), don't get along?
  2. Do you ever shout or yell when you argue with your sister or brother or friends? Does it ever help fix the problem?
  3. Have you ever been taken away from your friends when you are not getting along? Do you remember why?
Reference Materials

Pages 222-232 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: