First there’s the screaming fit over who gets to put the key in the front-door lock. Then there’s the Disney dance party turned WWE cage match.
My kids fight every single day — in the car, in the bathroom, in the supermarket. Far too much of our precious family time is spent negotiating truces. Yet nothing changes. The next morning, the battle hymn plays and, just like that, they’re off to the front lines again.
Of course, it’s comforting to know we aren’t the only ones whose kids spar. A University of Illinois study found that siblings ages 3 to 9 typically have arguments several times an hour. Whether you have girls, boys, or a mix doesn’t matter.
While it’s true that disagreements can help sisters and brothers hone social skills such as negotiation and compromise, there is a downside: Frequent, intensive fighting heightens kids’ risk of depression and anxiety and can lower their self-esteem. Beyond that, I can’t deal with another 15 years of being a referee, and I don’t want my kids to grow up to be bickering, sniping, it’s-not-fair-ing, I-hate-you-ing.
Here are my 5 tips for ensuring you are doing the right things to reduce sibling rivalry and help your kids get along better.
Almost all sibling fights are really just a creative way for children to get their parent’s attention. When they play nicely, tell them how much you enjoy them getting along, so much so that you are choosing to stay and enjoy their company. When they start treating each other badly, tell them it’s not fun for you anymore so you’re going to do something else instead.
Put Them In The Same Boat
Rather than putting them against one another, you need to group them into the same situation so they have to work together. For example: If two kids are fighting over a toy, they both loose the toy until they can agree on how to share it. If things get physical, send them BOTH to their rooms for a short time out. This assures you don’t accidentally take sides and show favoritism. It forces them to learn the benefits of getting along and sharing.
Parents mistakenly think that they will motivate change in behaviour by comparing siblings with comments like “Jake is ready for school, why are you so slow? Or “Grace ate her whole supper, what is your problem? These types of comparisons don’t motivate children to keep up with their siblings. It just creates more animosity, which kills co-operation and stimulates conflict.
Listen Without Fixing
If one child comes to you complaining about how their sibling mistreated them, took a toy without asking, or any other such complaint, listen empathetically but don’t take the bait and get pulled into their business! “Sounds like you are really upset with Zack for pushing you off the bike. You were scared and could have been hurt. Here is a hug. I am glad you are okay, but this sounds like something you need to speak to Jake about.” This re-inenforces the notion that while you are loving and caring, its is not your job to make sure your children get along. It’s their problem to deal with one another.
To ensure that you are still able to provide parental guidance and support to all in the family, hold weekly family meetings to discuss such issues during a time of calm rather than during the time of conflict. If Jake keeps pushing his brother off his bike, and you have tried ignoring it, you have taken the bike away until the boys worked out a system on their own, and these have failed, its time to put it on the agenda for the family meeting and see if the bigger brain trust of the whole family can come up with a solution together. The meeting is NOT about blaming Jake and giving him some disciplinary action. It’s a meeting to problem solve the issue of proper bike safety.