You know the drill; you wake up every morning to bickering and arguing between a pair of siblings. Siblings begin to squabble due to different reasons, and as parents we can often be intensifying the problem rather than facilitating its demise. Once children reach school age, their rivalry can intensify as they discover their differing interests and abilities.
1. Don’t keep them apart
Since sibling relationships are forever, it is important to teach your children how to get along with each other and work through the inevitable disagreements that arise in any interpersonal relationship. You are laying the groundwork for the relationships that your children will have for the rest of their lives — with their future friends, co-workers and spouse.
If possible, have your same gender children share a bedroom
. The skills that they will develop in doing so will be very important to the ways that they handle conflicts later on. They will also have those special sibling moments and memories to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
2. Don’t jump in and intervene at every squabble
There are some days that you will likely feel as though you should be wearing a referee’s uniform and blowing a whistle, sending both children to their respective corners. When your children are squabbling, and as long as there is no danger of one of them getting hurt, allow the situation to play out for a moment.
Whether you intend to or not, your intervention can actually fuel the fire. Most of the time the intervention goes in favor of a younger sibling, since the older one, knows better.
Teach and model proper conflict management with your children. Beginning at a young age, teach them to talk about their feelings, and to fight fairly. This is important to remember when having a disagreement with your spouse (unless you never do have spats with your spouse), so that your children see how to work through conflicts.
3. Don’t compare or allow comparisons from others
This is fairly obvious in the way to avoid sibling rivalry. If possible, try and have different people work with your children at activities, in school, etc. While the comparison may not be overt, younger siblings often transfer a comment or genuine constructive criticism from an adult who has worked with an older sibling to mean that they are not, as good astheir sibling.
Most adults do not make open and overt comparisons, but children hear these when they are struggling with their own identities. They will compare themselves to their older siblings.
4. Don’t ignore the effects of challenges on the family unit
Addressing issues in family conferences and meetings can go a long way to showing your children that you are concerned about the situation and that their feelings are important.
Do not turn family meetings into a family court or punishment session. Allow equal time for each member of the family to express themselves and to feel valued. Encouraging this open communication shows your children that their problems affect others around them.
As a way to illustrate this concept that even the youngest children can understand, try a simple family activity.
Sit in a circle with a ball of yarn.
Wrap the end around one of your fingers, and pass it to another member of the family.
When the yarn is passed, say something that you appreciate about that person.
Continue this activity until a web is formed.
Discuss how whatever pulls on the yarn is felt by each person in the web and how negative feelings toward each other affect the other family members.
This simple illustration can help every member of the family remember their interdependence upon each other and build family unity and harmony.
Sibling rivalry can be frustrating. Remember to let your children learn to work with each other through conflicts. Don’t compare your children and don’t put them in a position to be compared with a sibling. Teach your children that their behavior affects the entire family.