Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have less bickering and more cooperation from your children everyday!!! Many parents say, “How about just an hour of peace and quiet with no fighting.”
One mom said, “Just to get them in the car, drive to school without the harassing, punching and poking, would be a gold star day.” or “Getting thru just one meal without the constant comparing and name calling. That would be heaven on earth……” Sound familiar?
There’s good news and bad news about sibling rivalry. The good news is that it’s normal. The bad news is that it’s here to stay.
For most people, the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters is the longest relationship we will ever have with anyone. It’s an important relationship.
As toddlers, we begin learning life skills from our siblings that will continue on into adulthood. We teach each other about communication, give and take, relationship.(how to do one and how not to).
Siblings, in all their glory, are tremendous students and teachers to one another. They teach important life lessons to each other that no one else will.
(For those of you that have an only child, rest assured that your child will find others to do his/her “sibling” work with. Neighbors, friends, cousins, even mom and dad will all be a part of getting the necessary life lessons.)
Parents often find themselves interfering because they can’t stand the noise or think that their kids should be getting along. They have the mistaken belief that if they step in, the rivalry will stop and the kids will get along for the rest of the day.
When, in truth, many times if we manage to stay out of the rivaling, it resolves itself more quickly. Unless someone is going to get hurt physically or with words, try resisting the temptation to get involved.
Ignore them or go into another room and see if, once they know that you are not going to step in, the battle subsides. Parents are continually amazed at how this works. Our intention is to stop the rivalry by stepping in when actually it often turns out to be like pouring fuel onto the fire.
Sibling rivalry is often your children competing for your attention and approval. It is not that they do not like one another. The rivalry is only a small part of the relationship. It’s talked about most often because it is worrisome and drives parents crazy.
In addition to discovering ways to help with the rivalry, it is also important to create ways for your children to build a healthy and loving relationship. Yes….. it is possible.
10 Tools For Your Parenting Tool Box:
1. Give up expectations that siblings will get along. Take a moment and think back to when you were a kid. Did you always get along with your siblings? Was there ever teasing and name calling? What do you remember about those years of your life? As adults, when you get together do you still find yourself falling into the old, familiar patterns of roles and getting along?
2. Avoid comparisons. No one likes to be compared. Statements that compare children initiate conflict. As parents, it’s easy to compare your children without even realizing it. “Why can’t you sit quietly and eat your dinner like your sister?” “Your brother got straight A’s. Why can’t you? You are so lazy and you don’t even try to be a good student like he is.” These kinds of statements cause more distance and strife between your children.
3. Avoid taking sides. While it may appear that one is being the instigator over the other, almost always the other child has done something earlier to provoke the one who looks guilty at this moment. They both have a part.
Imagine that you are one of my two children. I walk into the room, you are crying and your brother looks guilty. I say, “James, what did you do to hurt her again? Why are you always so mean?” I turn to you and say, “Beth, I am sorry that James is being mean to you today. Are you okay?” James is most likely thinking that once again mom takes Beth’s side because she is younger. He may be thinking, ‘Mom didn’t see her walk by and kick me a few minutes ago. I am mad at both of them and will get even as soon as I get the chance.’ Beth is thinking, ‘Haha on James. He got in trouble and I didn’t. I feel like pretty hot stuff.’
Can you see that by taking a side, I am creating more separation and reason for the kids to rival as soon as they get the chance? Providing that no one is hurt, maybe it would have been more helpful if I had said, “You need some time apart. Each of you needs to find something to do on your own for a while.” Or sometimes saying, “I know the two of you can find a solution to work this out.” And then remove yourself. You are letting them know that you have the confidence in them to find a more effective way in getting along.
4. Acknowledge their feelings. Statements like the following deny the normal feelings of anger and jealousy that children occasionally feel toward their sibling. “Be a good girl and don’t fight with your brother.” “That’s a horrible thing to say to your brother. Brothers love each other.”
Statements like the following help acknowledge their feelings, “It’s hard to be the big sister. I imagine sometimes you wish she was never born. I understand that it is hard for you to share me.” or “I can see that you are really mad because Katie broke your brand new toy.” When our children know that we do understand and hear them, they are better able to feel their feelings and get on with their day.
5. Set clear limits. Children may not always show it but they do want age appropriate, clear and concise limits with natural and logical consequences. Children feel safer and more secure when they know the rules (limits). And when they feel more safe and secure, they act out less.
(1) Keep the focus of your message on the behavior.
(2) Be specific and direct.
(3) Use a normal voice/neutral tone.
(4) Specify the consequence if necessary.
(5) Support your words with action.
6. Intervene when necessary. With younger children we have to intervene more often than with older children. Older children can many times find solution between them if we manage to stay out of the disagreement. However, we need to always stop physical and aggressive behaviors and enforce the ‘no hitting’ rule. Many times we can offer possible solutions that will help teach children conflict resolution.
7. Treat each child as an individual. Look for the strengths of each of your children and find ways to have them experience success. If your child enjoys sports more than playing the piano, involve him in sport activities where he can have fun and do well. This builds his self confidence and esteem. If your other child excels at the piano and is not interested in soccer, get her involved in piano lessons and not force her to be out on the soccer field. Build on your child’s natural interests and strengths.
8. Quality time alone with each child on a regular basis: In our busy world of today, this is perhaps one piece of parenting and the family that gets lost. Quality time is when you give your child your genuine and undivided attention. You turn off your cell phone, put down the paper or whatever else may be a distraction and give your child the gift of your Presence. You are the most important person in your child’s life and they want and need to be with you.
It doesn’t matter so much what you are doing but that you carve out the time to be present with them. Taking them to the toy store or video shop to buy them something may not really be quality time.
Quality time might be taking a hike, reading together, pulling weeds, playing a game. Again it’s not the what you are doing but the quality of the time that you are giving. An unexpected gift for you might just be that you realize that you love having this time with your child and that you learn things about them you would not otherwise have discovered. Your children prefer your Presence over your presents.
9. Keep them well rested and fed. Have you ever noticed that when your child is over tired, has had too much ‘junk food’ or is just plain hungry, there may be more bickering and fighting going on? Their basic needs being met will help the rivalry lessen. If you realize that this is a piece of what’s going on, do your best to meet the need as soon as possible.
10. Help with the boredom factor. The odds are good that when a child gets bored, they turn to picking on a sibling in order to at least be doing something. It becomes their activity of the hour. Encourage your children to shift into a more productive activity.
Tools to Help Your Children Build Their Relationship:
1. Encourage time together for just them. Be available to suggest some activities that both children enjoy and could spend some time doing together. When they happen to be engaged and enjoying doing something together, resist the temptation to join in at that moment. In other words, “If I ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes we are so happy to see them getting along that we can’t resist making a comment or joining in. Even this can shift what they have been doing. Allow them their time.
2. Role play. This can be a fun way to help them see what it’s like to be the sibling, mom and the dad. For example, if one of your children have been calling their sister names all morning because they think it’s funny, have the name caller be the sister and you be the name caller. Role play what has been going on. It can be done in a playful way and, at the same time, shows the name caller what the sister may be feeling.
3. Clearly convey to them what you expect. Your children want to please you. The more clear and concise you are with your expectations, the more they will succeed.
4. Help your child get behind the eyes of his/her sibling. Help your children to understand what it may be like for their sibling. For example, if good grades come easily to one but not the other, privately talk with the one that school is easy for and explain that it is not easy for their sibling. Encourage them to be helpful and supportive to their sibling rather than teasing them or putting them down. Brainstorm together how they might be helpful. You may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
5. Be clear and consistent with your family rules. When children know the rules of the family and if they are consistently followed, the family runs more smoothly. If your children are old enough, have a Family Meeting and come up with 3 basic family rules that everyone agrees to follow. You might even want to post them. It is far more effective to have a few rules that you can stick to than to have many that are always changing.
This is also a wonderful exercise in clarifying, as a family, some of your values. Consider having a rule in regards to No Aggression and another about Self-Respect. Those two will get your started.
Copyright 2009 by Barbara Joy. All rights reserved.
Author of Easy Does It, Mom,(Conari Press 2009)