Last time we discussed some of the causes of sibling rivalry. Today, lets talk about what you can do to manage it. Here are some tips and strategies that when implemented consistently can be big sanity savers:
- Set aside “alone time” for each child regularly. Research has shown that getting in at least 10 minutes per day can greatly reduce sibling squabbles. We have "date nights" with our kids on a regular basis. My husband and I flip flop with each child taking one out to a movie while the other goes to the library or out for ice cream. We all look forward our dates. It's a great way to connect and stay in tune with each child. We also do regular "tuck ins" at night. This has always been a time when the kids share what's on their mind. Over the years, they have learned to respect each other's "tuck in" time by refraining from interrupting as it results in less "tuck in" time for them. Alone time with your kids offers a great opportunity to ask them how they feel about their sibling. This a great way to monitor the state of their relationship. You may even find out that despite the squabbles they actually like each other!
- Give your kids your full attention when they come to you with their concerns. Knowing that they are being heard despite the fact that they may not get their way can decrease whining and complaining. We all want to be heard when we are talking to someone now don't we?
- Talk about the differences between your kids in a positive manner. For example, "Yes, your brother is really good at drawing, and you have things you are very good at too like singing."
- Let them express their feelings: Acknowledging feelings of frustration can go a long way. It's OK for your child to express how angry or frustrated he/she is at their sibling. You can try redirecting by getting them involved in an art project, e.g., "You sound angry that Joe took your toy. Let's go draw a picture of what happened." Consider this the kid version of writing an angry letter and never sending it.
- Don't compare your kids. This can be tempting at times especially if one of your kids is easier to get along with than the other, but comparing kids can actually do a lot of damage by intensifying jealousy. And don't feel that you have to treat each child equally all the time. This is impossible! For example, giving a younger child a birthday present on an older siblings birthday takes away from the special day for the older sibling. The younger child needs to learn that they will have their special day and visa versa. If you think about this in terms of being an adult, we don't get gift on other peoples birthdays!
- Stay out of it! Research shows that it is best not to intervene (one caveat: you should pay attention when things get heated to ensure no one gets hurt). When we step in unnecessarily, we take away the opportunity for them to practice negotiation skills. We also run the risk of making the wrong call which can escalate resentment. Help your kids develop the skills to work out their conflicts on their own. Teach them how to compromise, respect one another, divide things fairly, etc. Give them the tools, then express your confidence that they can work it out, by telling them, “I’m sure you two can figure out."
- Don’t yell or lecture. It won’t help.
- If you didn't see it, you don't know who started it. You can hold them both accountable because it takes two to fight.
- Model appropriate anger management. If you stomp around, cuss, swear and slam doors when you are angry at your kids or spouse, you can expect your kids to do the same. Be a good role model of conflict resolution.
- Don't try to teach negotiation and conflict skills when your kids are angry or upset. Pick a time when everyone is in a good mood. Imagine someone telling you how you could have handled a situation better when you are still hurt and angry!
- Dangerous fights need to be stopped immediately. If the kids are acting out physically, you need to separate them immediately. You can talk about what happened after things have calmed down. Reiterate that physical violence is never acceptable. If your kids are physically violent with each other on a regular basis, you should seek professional help.
And finally, establish some house rules. Be sure to involve your kids in the process if age appropriate. A sense of shared control can decrease conflict down the road. Here are some common household rules:
- No hitting, kicking, etc. is allowed in the home.
- No name-calling, yelling, or tattling is allowed.
- If the kids fight over a toy, the toy gets put up.
- Anyone who demands to be first, will go last. (Learned that one from a preschool teacher!)
- If you make fun of someone who is being punished, it must mean you want to be punished too.
How do you handle sibling rivalry? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share with others? Please post your thoughts or tips. Until next time!