Is the bickering wearing you down?
Do you feel like your children are in a constant struggle of Tug of War?
Regardless of what is being discussed, item is desired, or who gets to do what, do your children turn it into a battle of wills?
Sibling rivalry is a common problem. It doesn’t matter what the age difference is or if you have boys, girls, or both; children will find reasons to argue. These rivalries can often lead to genuine feelings of dislike. What can you do to help end the fighting and create peace in your home?
- Set clear boundaries.
The children need to know exactly what is or it’s not acceptable. This applies to language used, attention given (time spent on electronic devices at the table for example), put downs that “get by” without mom or dad saying anything, who is expected to do what for chores, and how they are expected to treat each other and each other’s things.
If the younger child, for example, goes into the older child’s bedroom or reads their diary or borrows clothing, do you take a firm stand or is this perceived as an allowable offense because of your lack of discipline?
We actually put a lock on our older son’s bedroom door. He wanted privacy and his little brother adored him and wanted to be “in his space” as often as he could. The door locked from the outside. So, Andrew, our older child, could leave for school with door locked and have a feeling of security, knowing that we respected him and his wishes.
2. Do not allow teasing.
Teasing is hurtful. There is no “jk” (just kidding) that is funny. Usually, this is one child picking on another child but “couching” the dig in the form of a joke. This can be especially damaging when a younger sibling looks up to an older one. Many times as that younger child grows and starts developing who they are and who they think they can be, they listen to who their older sibling tells them they are.
If your older child is constantly berating and teasing the younger one, it can lead to feelings of insecurity, lack of confidence, and often, lashing out with a need to prove themselves.
3. Don’t compare your children.
This is so hard. When I was parenting littles, the prevalent theology was that you point out good behavior to reinforce the positive. This means I could easily say, “Andrew, I love how you use your please and thank you’s, it makes me feel very appreciated.” It is really hard to not emphasize the “you” in I love how you use… to indicate that maybe someone else is not doing this.
This is a comparison. The person who is not emphasized in that “you” will feel it and feel that they are falling short.
Children want to be recognized, celebrated, and and loved for who they are. To be continually reminded of who they are not feels like a battle you are not equipped to fight.
This causes feelings of jealousy and inadequacies between children which can lead to sibling rivalries and eventually sibling dislike and distrust.
4. Plan activities that bring them together.
If your children go to public school they are separated at least 8 hours a day. If they are pursuing their own interests outside of the school day with music, activities, or sports, they spend even more time apart.
Your children need time to learn about each other. Give them an opportunity to discover what they each enjoy, are good at, and what is important to them. Then help them practice being together engaging in conversation or activities happily, with each other.
I recommend you try collaborative games. These are games where the players join together to form a team and the goal is to beat the game. You all either win or lose together. Collaborative (or cooperative) games can be played by the entire family. Each person gets a specific job or role to help the team.
Collaborative games help sibling see each other’s strengths. They also help bring siblings together toward a common goal in fun and laughter.
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5. Spend time with your children
If you work, you are away from the kids. If they go to school, you are away from the kids. Children want to be noticed by, heard. From, spoken to, and paid attention to by their parents. If your children feel that the tie you are able to give them is limited, they will fight over you.
Time with you has become a precious commodity.
To alleviate the battle over who mom loves the most because she is paying attention to this child the most, schedule time together. Even if this time is the kiddos at the kitchen counter talking about their day while you cook dinner, you are giving them time to be heard and know that you are engaged in what they are saying.
Ask them questions about what they have said, be interested, and listen. Gently encourage the other children to listen as well. Then have the other child tell their story of what happened that day, anything that is causing them anxiety, if they are excited about anything, etc.
This is great because not only are your children getting your attention, but they are also listening to each other.
6. Limit Separation
The trend is to have one child go one way with one parent or family member and another child go the other way with the other parent. This is due to the variety of activities; you don’t want on child to be bored driving to and soccer and waiting during the practice, for example. Or, because there is a developmental age spread for movie night, they pick out different movies and watch them separately. Or, parents try to raise the children, almost as only children, by creating a “divide and conquer” style. They have “Mom and me” or “Dad and me” days.
The problem with this is the children do lot learn how to support each other’s activities because they don’t have to show up for each other. They do not learn how to compromise on something like a movie because they always get to pick out their choice. And they do not have to learn to love as a family, they learn that the preferred experience is one on one.
*I am not saying you should not have “Mom and Me” days, but they should be special and occasional, not the norm.
7. Teach your children to support each other
Your children are going to bicker and fight. If it is not too bad, let them work it out. Set boundaries around the argument/resolution process, but give them the clear expectations that they will work it out.
Create a definition of family. For us, family comes first. Family is very important. You always support your family.
Demonstrate what this means. Explain that these siblings are expected to stand together, united.
I explain this and more ideas in How to Create Family Kindness in 5 Steps.
8. Create a sibling fund
If you can, create a fund that the siblings can spend, but only if they are using it to have fun together.
If you can afford $20 a month, for example, the kids can save for a couple of months and then use it to visit a local amusement park. If you have children who are able to put off immediate gratification and can see a big dream come true after saving for years, they could save for a trip somewhere, together.
The important rule is that they each get an equal amount of money and they have to go together. Creating a source of money that they can share to create fun gives your children something to dream about and work towards…together.
Sibling rivalry and tension between brothers and sisters can be an energy drain. It also creates a negative atmosphere. You can restore positivity, joy, and all with these 8 steps to ending sibling rivalry.
“Why, if it isn’t my big brother descending from on high to mingle with the commoners.” Scar, Lion King