My kids constantly seem to be at each other’s throats! Not one day goes by without me having to intervene in their arguments. I get mad. They get mad, and sad, and we all end up not wanting to spend time together. Is there anything I can do to help them get along?
Please help save my sanity!
As parents, we have all heard our share of complaints from our children about their siblings. Learning to get along is hard work, especially when children feel the need to jockey for attention and equality. If there is one quality that children seem to develop early it is their sense of justice and self-preservation. While these skills may be essential for survival, they are hardly endearing or useful in maintaining a peaceful household filled with cooperative children. One may wonder if siblings can ever be friends.
Sibling rivalry and its accompanying jealousy, conflict and tears can be successfully prevented and avoided and yes, siblings CAN be friends. Here’s how:
Maintain consistent behavioral expectations across ages and genders, while considering developmental abilities and relevant context. If one child is expected to finish all the food on the plate, then all the children should finish their food as well. The portion sizes may differ depending on the age of the child, but the end result should be the same.
Have one-on-one conversations with each child every day in order to prevent your children from clamoring for your attention in a negative way. Engage in responsive, caring conversation while picking up your daughter from practice. Ask your son about his day while he is hanging out in the kitchen eating his snack.
Avoid comparative language. Choose your words carefully. “Why can’t you make your bed like your brother does?” or “Hurry up! Your sister is already finished!” only increases rivalry. Hold each child accountable to standards of behavior independent of the other children.
Create an environment that fosters friendship, recognizing that friendships must be nurtured and valued in order to flourish. Give your children time and space for interaction and participation in enjoyable, open-ended, cooperative activities. Avoid over-scheduling children’s time; prioritize time spent interacting as siblings.
Teach and maintain expectations of polite, respectful interaction between family members. “Please” and “thank you” should be phrases that are regularly heard within the home.
Encourage children to solve their own problems and avoid resolving issues on their behalf. When they come to tattle on a sibling simply say, “Wow, it sounds like you have a problem. How are you going to solve that problem?” Listen to their interaction and offer supportive hints and choices when needed, allowing the children to own the problem as well as the solution.
At times it may be useful to separate the offenders in order to give them time to think about possible solutions. Time spent apart may help them calm down and increase their ability to view the situation more clearly in order to identify a solution.
Explicitly teach and model active listening for children including the reading of non-verbal cues. If you say, “I heard someone say ‘stop!’” children are more likely to clue into the fact that their sibling just said “Stop!” and respond to it. You can pause a situation by saying, “Look at Peter’s face right now. What do you think his expression is trying to tell you? What do you think he might be feeling right now?” followed by, “Peter, can you please use words to tell Sophie what you are feeling and want to say to her right now?” Intervening in this way helps children learn to communicate both verbally and non-verbally. When children complain, take time to listen to both sides of the story, repeat back what each child has said (or a short version of it) and ask both parties their thoughts on best handling the issue.
Avoid feeding the monster of entitlement. Sometimes life is not fair and one person may receive special treats that the other does not. One child may be invited to ice cream with a friend without the other siblings. A child receives presents on his birthday while his sister has to wait for her birthday. Allow your children to feel special from time to time and resist the urge to constantly level the playing field. One sibling is invited to an amusement park with friends? Great! Let’s rejoice on his behalf without feeling the need to treat the other siblings to something special in order to even things out. Turn the situation into a teachable moment by acknowledging the negative feelings that may emerge. “What you are feeling right now is jealousy, and that is completely normal.” (or frustration or sadness). Identify the negative emotions for your child and help your child learn the important life lessons of patience, being happy for others and experiencing delayed gratification.
Finally, recognize that conflict is inevitable in life shared with other people. We are all still learning, and through learning we make mistakes and keep going.
Hang in there and please don’t give up!
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