Siblings fight, and, although there are a number of tips to manage sibling rivalry available out there, you will never be able to avoid or prevent it altogether. Some siblings merely argue less or less violently than other sibling pairs. However, as a parent, there are a few measures that you can put in place to deal with this.
Allow Your Children To Express Themselves
Life can be hectic and very tiresome, but despite this you need to make time for each of your children to express themselves each day. To do this you should set aside a time slot every day for each child during which they can tell you about their experiences or anything else they would like to discuss. If another sibling interrupts:
- Tell them to wait their turn – they will have your undivided attention in just a few minutes
- Remove the child from the room and place him or her in a time-out situation if they continue to disrupt their sibling’s expression time
- Once the disruptive sibling has calmed down, give him his turn to express himself
Establish a daily pattern, but allow your children to take turns ‘going first’.
Treat Each Child Equally
It is often noted that children who are of the same gender tend to fight more. In addition children who are closer in age to each other also tend to fight more. This is because, in many ways, they are ‘competing’ in the same areas of life. Children of different genders and further apart in age have less common ground to fight over or compare themselves in. As the parent you need to treat all of your children equally. Monitor your behavior carefully and make sure that you are not doing anything that may imply that you favor one child over another. This can happen without you even realizing it, so be very careful. Also create a home environment in which children can speak to you about perceived unfairness.
Don’t Take Sides
It is essential that you, as the parent, do not take sides in sibling rivalry situations. This is one of the most common and one of the most important tips to manage sibling rivalry. Even if one child started the fight, the other child is also participating in the fight and needs disciplining. Some things to keep in mind here:
- Separate your children
- Punish each in a way that fits the crime – so both children must be punished, but not necessarily in the same way
An additional point to remember is that what may seem like punishment to one child may be nothing to another. For example a quiet child may enjoy being sent to her room as a form of punishment. Tailor your punishments accordingly.
Give Each Child A Turn With Your Undivided Attention
This is closely related to setting aside time every day for your children to express themselves. In addition to this you also need to give them undivided attention on other tasks. For example, you should set aside times to be completely absorbed in helping your children with their homework or with their extracurricular activity. If it is possible you may also like to consider taking children on separate outings, but ensure that these outings can be deemed to be of equal quality in the eyes of your child. If everyone gets a turn with your undivided attention, no one will feel that they are the least favorite and sibling rivalry may be decreased significantly as a result.
Don’t Compare Your Children
It is extremely important that you do not compare your children. There are two things to keep in mind here:
- Praise and notice each sibling for what they, personally, have managed to achieve, regardless of what it is
- Do not compare the accomplishments of each child with another – children are often good at completely different things that cannot be compared in any case
You need to encourage an atmosphere in your home where comparisons are simply not made and where it never occurs to children that they may be ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than a sibling. As soon as you compare children, jealousy arises and rivalry begins. Make sure their teachers, if they have the same ones, also do not compare them with each other.
Teach Them To Handle Conflict Without You
This is something that will take a lot of time and patience as well as constant reinforcement to instill in your children. If they come to you with a problem with sibling, ask them what they think they should do about it and then encourage them to take action. Also ensure that you teach them to consider the possible outcomes of their actions. Teasing will happen between siblings of all ages, so you must do your best to teach your children to ignore teasing as well as teach them that teasing can be hurtful so they should not do it in the first place. If there is already a rule in your home that brothers and sisters must never hurt each other, describing teasing as something that is hurtful can go a long way to reducing its frequency.
Step In When Children Cannot Work Out Their Problems
Generally speaking it is better to let your children sort out their own conflicts and find their own ways to resolve them. However there are times when it is better for you to step in and intervene. These times include:
- Their fighting becomes serious on a psychological or emotional level and they are actually causing harm to each other
- Their fighting becomes dangerous on a physical level
If you are not sure exactly how to step in when this happens, you can consult with a family therapist or a child psychologist or counselor who will be able to provide you with tips on how to handle the situation. Taking the time to look more deeply into the situation to see what the cause of the dangerous behavior is will also be helpful.
Reinforce And Encourage Them When They “Play Nicely”
Punishing children for bad behavior is one thing, but if this is the only time that they can get a reaction out of you they are likely to fight more frequently. In order to avoid this situation you need to be sure to praise them and perhaps even consider giving them the occasional reward when they are seen to be playing well together or if they manage to resolve a conflict on their own in a way that you deem to be acceptable. Positive and respectful behavior must be reinforced. This is a lot more powerful than simply punishing children for fighting, because children are primarily concerned with gaining approval and acceptance from their parents. Simply saying things like “Wow, you’re playing very well with Johnny, thanks for being so grown-up!” is enough to reinforce the observed positive behavior.
Have Consistent “Me Time”
This is mainly in order to give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries. Life is stressful and often parents are inclined to bring their work stress home with them and overreact when their children fight. There are a number of things to keep in mind here:
- House rules should include no fighting between siblings
- There need to be predetermined consequences for breaking house rules
- This leaves children with a decision as to whether or not they want to face the consequences
If there are predetermined consequences to be faced, then you as a parent will never have to shout and yell but quietly (and consistently) apply the rules. Consequences must be meted out in every case without exception in order to instill a respect for the house rules.
Be Fair And Impartial
This is easier said than done as your decisions will always be colored by your experiences, your mood, and your perception of the situation. Firstly you must never assume that you know who is in the right and who is in the wrong in a fight. Usually both children contribute to the situation. In addition there are often underlying problems and events that you may not be aware of that you will need to have your children discuss with you. Make it clear that you will not make a decision on punishment until you have all the facts, and then proceed to gather those facts. Make sure each child has a chance to speak uninterrupted, and decide who gets to speak first entirely at random. This will instill a sense of democracy and fairness in your children as well as reducing sibling rivalry.
Many of the above tips to manage sibling rivalry go without saying. Most parents do not need to be told how to deal with their children. However, it is important that you apply the above skills and measures consistently and with all of your children. Eventually your children will, most likely, grow out of this stage of conflict and become friends in addition to being family. Your attitude will play a big part in the outcome of their relationship.