By Jim Barlow The children are fighting again. As mom or dad, what do you do? Let them fight or should you intervene? New research suggests the answer depends on the kids' ages, what approach the parents plan to use, and whether it's mom or dad who does the intervening. UI family researchers observed sibling fights and parental responses in 88 two-parent families. Each family had a 3- to 5-year-old second child and a first child who was two to four years older. A surprising finding was that although the parents generally agreed in questionnaires that talking with their fighting children or redirecting the combatants' attention was the best action, parents usually ignored the fights, said Laurie Kramer, a UI professor of family studies. When parents did intervene, children responded differently to moms than to dads. The age of the siblings was a key factor, said Kramer, who recently reported the findings at a meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Indianapolis. The research results are being prepared for publication. Mothers were most successful in their intervention of fights involving siblings ages 3 to 7 rather than with older children, especially when moms redirected children's attention to another topic or object. "This makes sense, because younger siblings may need their mothers to help them resolve conflicts and to set the relationship back on course," Kramer said. "In contrast, older siblings know how to resolve conflicts - although they may choose not to - and maternal intervention may in some way heighten the animosity between the siblings." Fathers had more success using collaborative approaches that sought mutually acceptable solutions. "I think that fathers were relatively more effective with this strategy than moms, perhaps, because children may expect fathers to respond to their conflicts rather gruffly, with an assertion of power," Kramer said. "When dad chooses another method, one that actually involves the children and pays attention to their needs or interests, the children may respond very positively." Moms were not as effective using a collaborative approach with the younger children, but overall, the researchers found, mothers could use a variety of strategies successfully, as long as the moms didn't take an authoritarian stand such as threatening to take away toys or simply demanding that fighting stop. "Most of the past studies on parental discipline have included only mothers, or treated fathers and mothers as though they are interchangeable," Kramer said. "This study says that is not the case." Regardless of which parent responds, she said, a power approach was not effective in setting the stage for favorable sibling encounters.