Most of us have such visions of our offspring being the world’s best buddies, but with kids living under the same roof some bickering is bound to be the outcome. The closer your kids are in age, the more likely the squabbles. While you can’t force your kids to like each other, there are ways to fend off some of those battles and some skills you can teach that will minimize jealousies, help them appreciate one another, so they are more apt to get along (and just maybe learn to like each other). Here are a few solutions:
Expect it! Studies show that one third of adults admit to having a rivalrous relationship with their sibs. Those squabbles are normal and healthy to a certain extent. Investigations now show that minor sibling tiffs actually help kids learn to handle conflicts and deal with the outside world better.
Tune into your parenting responses. Be honest. Might you be playing favorites or putting too much pressure on one kid or another? Do you: Expect more of one child? Give one kid more attention? Take sides? Encourage rivalry in academics, sports, or popularity by acknowledging one kid over another? Pay equal attention to each child’s hobbies, friends, school, and interests? Distribute chores, rewards, and opportunities fairly?
Never compare! Research repeatedly finds that the top reason for sibling rivalry is when parents compare their children. Make this be your sacred vow: Avoid comparisons and emphasize each child’s individual strengths instead.
Find time alone for each child. Depending on your schedule, set aside blocks of time when each of your children can have your attention, exclusively. While the other siblings are gone or another adult watches them, take turns taking each of the children on special outings, such as shopping, seeing a movie, or getting ice cream.
Acknowledge cooperation. When you notice your children sharing or playing cooperatively or trying to resolve issues peacefully, let them know you are proud of their behavior. If the children know you appreciate their efforts, they are more inclined to repeat them. “I really appreciate how you two worked things out calmly this time. Good for you.” “I noticed how you both made an effort to help each other figure out how to put the DVDs away. Nice job.”
Stay neutral. Most research finds that the more involved you get in those tiffs, the more likely the sibling rivalry. Siblings need to learn how to work problems out on their own. So intervene when emotions are high, before an argument escalates. If the conflict does get heated, stay neutral and make suggestions only when your kids seem stuck.
Let each kid tell the story. In the case of hurt feelings or a battle, ask each kid to take turns explaining what happened. Doing so helps each child (especially a younger or less verbal one) feel they have been heard. No interrupting is allowed, and everyone gets a turn. You might need to set a timer for “equal talking time.” When the sibling is finished, briefly restate her view to show you do understand.
Teach kids problem solving skills. Do teach your kids simple ways to solve their problems. Some of the best are “oldie but goodie” techniques that reduce squabbles such as: rock, paper, scissors; drawing straws, tossing a coin, oven timers (“You can use it until the timer goes off, then it’s my turn”), tossing a dice (“Highest number chooses first”). They are great sanity savers for now, but also teach beginning negotiation skills our kids will need for later.
Start family meetings. Don’t let animosity build up amongst siblings. It only lead to more conflicts and resentment. Instead, provide the opportunity for each child to be able to express their feelings and concerns and work through issues considered unfair such as in Family meetings. Some families set up a “Concern Box” where kids can request a “mediation” with the family member and parent present to help them work things out.
The secret is to find a way for kids to vent their feelings in a healthy way and not let them build into rivalry.
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