Sibling rivalry is an integral part of family life. But what can be even more damaging, in the long run, is the fact that parents are often expected — by the children, by themselves, and just about everyone else — to act the judge.

Two crying children approach the parent pointing fingers at each other and saying things like, "It was her fault", "He started it", "She took something away from me first." It is easy for a parent to fall into the trap of trying to differentiate the innocent party from the guilty.

If you are blessed with two or more children, chances are that you will find yourself spending quite a few hours a week playing judge. As many parents, you may actually assume this is your duty. You will sit and listen to each side patiently, cross-examine the litigants, and hear testimony from witnesses. By the time you are ready to rule who is wrong and who is right, the children may have already forgotten about the fight and will have moved on to the next activity.

What is wrong with this scenario — aside from the expenditure of time and energy — is that you are teaching your children to assume that in every conflict there is one guilty party, and the solution is to lay the blame squarely upon that one guilty party.

A child psychologist gave me a simple suggestion recently: if two children come complaining that they had a fight (unless one of them is a known bully), punish them both! Send them both to their rooms. They will very quickly learn to resolve their differences by themselves by stopping the negative behavior that caused the fight. They will not look for who is to blame, because it will take longer to resolve the conflict that way. A quick resolution means they can go back to play sooner.

The tendency to blame others for whatever is wrong comes naturally to the child; unless we are untaught this behavior, we will carry it into our adult life. When two people come to me with a conflict, I usually find that each of the parties is able to articulate extremely well what part the other person played in creating the problem. I hear them saying things like, "If only he would stop criticizing me" or "Why is she so stubborn?" or "Why is he so mean to me? If only he would change, we would not have the problem."

We tend to focus all of our energies on the part our opponent played in creating the conflict. But that is precisely the part of the problem that we are least able to deal with and fix! We have no control over what the other thinks, feels or does. By focusing on our own feelings and actions, over which we do have control, we can implement the appropriate changes which could assist in resolving the problem.

It is almost impossible to find a conflict where one side is 100% right and the other 100% wrong. In the overwhelming majority of cases, each one of the sides is a contributor to the conflict. We have a much better chance of resolving our differences if we examine with honesty the part that we played in the dispute. And by having the courage to put aside our ego and take responsibility for the part that we have messed up, we will encourage our opponent to follow suit.

Try it, it works! And most importantly, teach it to your children when they are young — when their conflicts are harmless enough, and their minds open enough, to learn this truth.