Keeping the peace….
All smiles building the sandcastle…took some sibling cooperation…but life with four kids wasn’t always full of sibling cooperation!
“Mom, she is looking at me!” “Mom, she is touching my stuff!” “He called me dumb!” “Ow, quit pinching me!”
Ahh, the sounds of loving sisters and brothers. I have heard these “wonderful” sounds often in our home. Sibling rivalry and arguing is as old as time. Look at Cain and Abel! Even the most loving families have arguing between sisters and brothers.
Sibling rivalry and discord often does not rear its ugly head until a younger brother or sister becomes mobile and gets into the older child’s “stuff” and disrupts their playtime. Conflict may continue as children get older because each child is an individual and has different temperaments. Every child tries to define who they are and compete for attention in the family.
What is a parent to do when the fighting begins? How can a family increase sibling cooperation and have peace?
- Treat each child as a unique person instead of equals. Yes, I said you CANNOT treat all of your children the same ALL of the time. You can love your children the same, but you need to give to each child what he or she needs at the appropriate time. Parents that try to keep everything EQUAL all the time actually foster rivalry. If one of your children needs a new pair of shoes, you do not need to buy EVERYONE something to make it “even”. If one child is having a particularly difficult time and needs more one on one time, then give that time to that child. Your other children will need it at different times. I have known parents that have actually kept a log of expenses for each child…kids realize these things, and will actually start to keep track themselves which makes it worse! As a parent our job is to provide what every one of our children needs at the time they need it, not to be equal.
- Avoid comparisons at all times. Lifelong resentments are born from comparisons. Celebrate the uniqueness of each of your children. Point out their individual strengths and talents. Nurture those strengths. This sets each child apart from his or siblings and helps them build self-esteem.
- Raise sensitive and empathetic siblings. When one child is hurt, always have the other give comfort. When a younger sibling needs to be taught a task, let the older child help out. Describe feelings to your child, explain how a sibling might be feeling when they are upset.
- Encourage family cooperation. Assign tasks for children to do together, make them cooperate. “Let’s pick up the playroom. Race the timer and see if you can beat it!” Don’t set them up to compete by saying “Who can pick up the most toys?”
- Plan family activities that are fun for everyone. If your kids have good experiences together it increases family bonding. Don’t “divide and conquer” as parents constantly. Encourage siblings to support each other at sporting events, concerts, and school activities.
- Pay attention to the time of day and other patterns when conflicts happen. Maybe an earlier dinner, a quiet time in the evening, or a nap will help prevent conflicts. Children fight more when they are hungry, tired, or bored.
- Let your children work out conflicts on their own in most cases. This helps them to learn conflict resolution. Teach compromise. Point out “win win” solutions and tell them that you are confident that they can work it out.
- Don’t yell or lecture…it doesn’t help.
- It doesn’t matter who started the argument, it takes two to argue. Hold your children equally responsible when there is fighting. There usually is one child that is the “pot stirrer” and one child that is louder and more dramatic! Parents need to remain impartial and separate the siblings. Separation can include going to their rooms if they are older, sitting in separate areas of the same room if they are younger, or I have had success with making them sit across from each other without talking. This often ends up in both kids giggling!
- Help your children express their feelings about each other. Don’t just try to talk them out of their feelings. “I know you are angry….” “I know you are frustrated…” “It must feel like it is not fair when…”
- Set very clear boundaries. In our home we do not hit, there is no name calling, and there are certain items that each child has that are off-limits without permission. Allow your children to have some of their “own” things that do not have to be shared unless they choose. Giving each child their own space and a few special things that are theirs alone is very helpful. Their own space does not have to be their own room. Actually, sharing rooms builds incredible bonds between siblings. We opted to have a “playroom” and have our girls share rooms until the teen years. There is just something about those late night talks….
- Model good conflict resolution skills. If your children see you yelling, name calling or putting other down, those “techniques” will show up in their conflicts.
- Items that are handed down to siblings should be labeled as toys or clothing for a certain age…”these toys are for 3 year olds”, “this is the kindergarten box of clothes”, not these are your brother’s old toys or clothes.
- Make spending time alone with each child a priority. This does not have to be expensive outings, it could be just picking one child to run an errand with you alone. Reconnecting with each child for a few minutes each evening worked great for us. Just a few minutes of sitting on the bed before sleep talking about whatever might be important, or chatting about the day gave each child a bit of individual love and attention. You might schedule special times too, maybe each child knows that one of their birthday gifts will be an afternoon alone with you!
With a little work, your children can develop close relationships with each other that will last through adulthood. However, even with parents fostering these relationships, I promise you will still hear “Moooommmm, she is bugging me!” Stop, don’t panic and remember, sibling rivalry is as old as time, why would your home be any different?
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.