Constant bickering between siblings can cause most parents to lose their ‘love of parenting’. It sure isn’t fun when your kids are at war with each other most of the time. When emotions run high, it can be difficult to appreciate that squabbling is part of childhood development but full-blown sibling rivalry is not inevitable.
It seems there are only so many times you can tell your little darlings to stop arguing, quickly reaching a point where your telling off has no effect on breaking up a fight. It may even feel like the arguing has escalated beyond the usual pattern, so what is considered a normal level and when has the situation become problematic?
The great news is that there are some easy ways for you to get things back on track and ensure those fights don’t get out of hand. In fact, you will get to a point where your children’s disagreements are purely a reflection of growing up and finding their own way, and don’t resemble a war zone.
Be ready, sit up, your sibling rivalry one-on-one training is about to start. You will be showing your children how to build successful relationships which includes encouraging happy, warm feelings towards their other siblings. A lot of this ‘teaching’ is centred around establishing structure, controlling your own emotions, leading by example and allowing your children to have an opinion!
First consider the age of your children, and if appropriate, call a family meeting where you all agree on some family rules. As parents, you may have some non-negotiable rules but do remember that your children need to contribute to the discussion. Always explain your reasons for non-negotiable rules. When the final rules have been agreed, get your children involved in writing up the ‘rulebook’ using pictures or words, and then hang these somewhere visible.
Stick to your agreed rules for all children, because this will promote fairness and not result in the jealousy and resentment that foments sibling rivalry. However, do remember to re-assess your agreed rules on a regular basis since these will change in line with your children getting older.
Be a Role Model
Now it is time to lead by example, show your children how it is done! Here we are talking about the power of compromise, taking turns and having a discussion instead of an argument. Children should have the opportunity to practise communication skills in a safe environment, they need to flex those muscles as this will become part of their everyday life.
Always praise positive behaviour, never miss an opportunity to make your child feel good about themselves. You could talk with your children about how good it feels when someone is nice to you by using examples from your own day such as ‘I was really pleased when your teacher told me I looked nice today’.
Then continue this positive thinking pattern, first encourage your children to be positive towards you like ‘thanks, you made a lovely dinner tonight’. This is followed by inspiring your children to extend that positivity towards their sibling, for example by saying ‘I like the way you coloured that picture, can you show me how?’
Punishing your Child
Unfortunately, this happens a lot but it would be great if you could avoid dishing out punishments and taking sides in your children’s arguments. You don’t know the full story, and this can create additional resentment between your kids. Instead, encourage your children to refer to the rules, and give them a chance to work it out for themselves. Your children are capable of sorting most battles out on their own, sibling rivalry is not inevitable.
Don’t Make Comparisons
We all have memories of being compared with someone who was better and bigger than ourselves, and I am sure you will agree this could be hurtful at times! Don’t repeat this pattern, stop making comparisons between your siblings as no two people are the same. Unless your children are twins, your siblings are typically at different stages in their development which means they do not possess the exact same strengths and abilities. Each child is an individual with their own special thoughts and qualities, and this certainly applies to your children too. Instead, celebrate their uniqueness and successes, and they will feel good about themselves instead of holding onto resentment towards a more accomplished sibling.
Give your Children Tools
If emotions run too high, it would be a positive and lifelong skill to teach your children a range of tools so they can deal with their anger, jealousy and other strong feelings. Depending on the children’s age, it could as simple as counting to 10; choosing to take themselves away from the situation; changing their breathing pattern or put on some music to dance around.
The ‘YOU’ Factor
Do you suddenly find yourself shouting at your children? It is time to check your own emotional state before getting cross about your children’s ‘arguments’. Are you tired after a long day’s work, maybe you are hungry and so on? Could it be that the children are purely being loud and not actually arguing!
If you have a tendency to lose your temper, try and put yourself in child’s shoes. Remind yourself what it felt like when you were being told off as a child. If you can’t remember that feeling, imagine how it would be to be on the receiving end of your own adult anger! Make a clear decision on how you handle your own anger, and find ways to communicate in a less frightening way.
On some days, arguments between your children may be getting too intense, like whose turn is it to pick a movie, to sit in the front seat, to hold the dog’s leash. If this is the case, set up a schedule that will outline who gets to do what on which days. It may seem tedious but it really works, children thrive on routines and they will keep a close eye on whose turn it is next. In fact, they will start to remind the other sibling to take their turn, and this is a great aptitude.
Take Time to Talk
Always make sure you take time to listen to your child, and never dismiss your child’s feeling. It is likely that to them a sibling disagreement seems unbearable. You can help your child resolve the issue by having a casual chat and gently guiding your child to find a solution of their own. As humans, we all need to vent to someone else on occasion, however, this venting (your casual chat) typically results in your child letting go of the pressing issue.
The Next Step to Cracking Sibling Rivalry
Finally, keep your expectations real, your child is a mini-person that needs to be guided in the right positive direction. Should you wish to discover more positive parenting tools, have a look at our featured parenting course, or sign up for the FREE webinar ‘How to get kids to listen without nagging, reminding or yelling’.
By Tina Elven
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