By Becky Hodgson, Parent Liaison
Sometimes, despite our best laid plans, the last cookie, a favorite seat in the car, or parental attention to another sibling can be all it takes to turn a happy family outing into anything but. The bickering and fighting our kids do will wear us down, disrupt the peace in our homes and derail our best intentions. Siblings have been battling one another for generations, but that doesn’t mean it has to drive us batty. Understanding why sibling rivalry occurs can help us build an environment that minimizes the potential for conflict. Here are a few things to try:
With the input of all family members, establish some basic house rules (i.e. no hitting, no name calling) and consequences for breaking them. Be sure to include everyone: buy-in comes when the whole family has an opportunity to contribute and feel heard.
Consider having regular family meetings. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about the highs and lows for the week and make family decisions. Everyone has a chance to share, all opinions are important. Always end with a fun family activity.
Strive to give each child 10-20 minutes daily of one on one attention from each parent.
Don’t compare or label kids such as “the smart one” or “the rebellious child”. Instead, celebrate the unique qualities of your children.
It is important to learn to share, but having some special possessions that kids are not required to share or time with a friend when they don’t have to include their brother or sister is vital.
When they squabble, if no one is being hurt, allow them to work it out. Kids feel resentful when parents take sides or reinforce “victim” and “aggressor” roles.
If children are not able to resolve an issue on their own, step in as a neutral party. Give each a chance to express themselves and encourage them to use “I feel” statements. Listen and help them clarify the problem, then ask them to find solutions. If they are having a hard time coming up with ideas, you can make a couple of suggestions to help get them started. Sometimes kids need to be separated and have a chance to calm down before they can work things out.
Finally, children notice how their parents handle conflict and anger. Without realizing it, you could be modeling what you don’t want them to copy. Demonstrate how you want them to behave and acknowledge them when they are being kind and cooperative.
While sibling rivalry can be exhausting at times, it can also be a tremendous opportunity for our kids to learn a host of skills: conflict resolution, assertiveness, cooperation, empathy, and anger management. Challenging as it may be, seizing these trying times as an opportunity for growth can help us embrace potential where once there was frustration.
Further reading: Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together so You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I Love You the Purplest, by Barbara Joosse
Becky Hodgson is proud to serve as Thrive’s Parent Liaison at Longfellow and Hawthorne Elementaries