When parents think about adding another child to the family, they think of the love that siblings share throughout their lives. They think of giving their child a brother or sister who will always be there. They think of fun games of catch in the backyard or the family trip to the beach.
What they don’t dream about is the continual bickering, the fighting, the arguing over toys, over attention, over who has more cake, over who gets better birthday gifts... There are few relationships as influential as that between siblings - and fighting is a big part of it.
How do you deal when siblings don’t get along?
Sibling rivalry is part of life; it’s normal. But if parents do not deal with it in a healthy way, it can linger into our adult lives. Children may feel like they get less attention or love; they may feel jealous of a baby who has “stolen” his parents; they may feel that parents are unfair or have a “favorite.” If you think back on your own childhood, you can probably remember these feelings – and hopefully you aren’t still mad at or jealous of your brother or sister over some sibling gift! Here are some ways to handle this with your children:
- Don’t be a referee. Not only is this exhausting, it’s not doing much for your kids. Children with siblings tend to be better at negotiating and working out their problems without outside help. Stepping in can cause one child to feel as though the other is favored, and if you didn’t see a specific behavior, you don’t know for sure who instigated it.
- Instead of disciplining one child, tell both that fighting is not allowed in your home. Tell them that if they do not work it out, they will both have to deal with the consequences of fighting. If they continue, set a consequence, like time-outs in their rooms. If they share a room, separate them. You could also take away 15 minutes of TV or video game time if they cannot stop. This will stop the, “It’s his fault; no it’s her fault” complaining. It doesn’t matter who started it or whose “fault” it is.
- Give them time. Some parents hear squabbling and step in the second an argument starts. If no one is hitting anyone, let them be. You will be surprised how often they can work it out for themselves. This is an incredibly valuable lesson for children.
- The site, EmpoweringParents, has this wonderful idea for a “bickering table.” If your children constantly fight, set up a special table at which they can bicker. Set a time, say 5:30 to 5:45 (or whatever works for your schedule). The kids will have to sit down and bicker. Yes, that’s right. And if they run out of things to fight about, they have to sit there until bickering time is over. Most kids will stop because it feels silly or they get bored. Remind them that if they do not bicker during the day, they don’t have to sit at the bickering table.
- Recognize normal sibling rivalry and bullying. Some dominant siblings will take this too far and become bullying or even abusive. If this is the case, speak to a school counselor or your pediatrician for help.
- Praise good behavior. “I really like how you asked to share, Ben.” “Sara, I really like how you let Ben play with your toy.”
- Let your child see your frustration if they are not listening to the rules – but also use it to teach them how to handle their feelings constructively. Instead of yelling at them, you talk to them calmly. “I’m really disappointed that you are not following the rules. It makes me feel very frustrated.” Use “I” language, and show them how to deal with emotions through talking and finding solutions rather than yelling.
- Give each child his special time with you. Whether you are reading a book or going to the store together, make some alone time.
Sibling fighting can be incredibly difficult to deal with as a parent; it seems like it will never end. If you handle it fairly and consistently, though, your children will have built-in best friends for life.
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