Brothers and sisters will fight. It’s part of growing up, and a life lesson in learning to get along with different people. (After all, not everyone will be as patient as Mom and Dad.)
However, that doesn’t change how annoying or even worrisome sibling fighting can be for parents who have enough to do without being family referee. Here are tips on what to do when the kids come running: ‘Mom, she started it!’
1. Set realistic expectations for their age.
For example, toddlers can’t be expected to share or wait their turn. They’re still learning self-control. In this situation, your best bet is to teach them how to do parallel play: sitting next to each other, doing their own thing, and slowly learning the ‘nice’ way to borrow a toy.
It’s also unfair to ask kids to ‘play together’ when their ages lead them to completely different needs or interests. Older, more independent may dislike having younger siblings tag along. Pre-schoolers may be frustrated by the complicated games preferred by their older siblings. Don’t force them to be best friends. Better that they have their own pursuits—and look forward to genuine family time.
2. Respect differences.
Even older kids with different personalities are more likely to clash. The key is to teach them to understand and respect their differences. For example, a high-spirited seven-year-old who likes to rough house and joke around will probably get on the nerves of his more sensitive younger sister. Teach him how to be more sensitive to subtle emotional cues (‘you know that when she makes that face, she’s starting to get upset’) and teach her a nice, unemotional way of telling him to stop (‘it’s not personal, sweetie, but you can always say that you’d rather talk about something else.’)
3. Introduce activities that encourage cooperation.
Are they fighting over the TV or a game? Some toys are more fun when there are a lot of people: ball sports, Frisbee, kitchen sets. Or, buy video games that have two-player modes. At the same time, take away any toy or activity if they start fighting over it: ‘Neither of you can have this until you learn how to share or take turns.’ They learn fighting doesn’t get them what they want, and lets them release frustration in a fun, non-aggressive way.
4. Avoid sibling rivalry with one-on-one time.
Kids don’t just fight over toys—the worst fights occur when they get possessive about their parents, too. Sharing a parent is a big deal for them, and they may fight with siblings the way wild animals defend territory.
So one of the best ways of helping them develop better relationship with their siblings is to develop their relationship with you. They shouldn’t feel the need to compete for you attention, so allot individual bonding sessions where they get your undivided attention.
Kids can also have pent-up jealousy or resentment towards a sibling who excels in school, sports, or any area where they are experiencing difficulty. Help them see what they’re good at, and develop their talent or gift. Never motivate them by comparing them to their siblings—that pulls down their self-esteem and destroys family relationships.
5. Praise the peace
Since many kids fight to get parents’ attention, ignore them when they argue and lavish praise when they go out of their way to get along. Be specific: ‘I appreciate you holding your temper when your brother accidentally broke your toy. That was very mature.’