If you’ve got more than one child like I do, then you probably know a little something about sibling rivalry. Some families are lucky enough not to have difficulties in this area, but most will face it at one point or another. It’s so frustrating as a parent. I mean, you dream of your children playing with each other (that’s why we had them, right?), but instead they are constantly fighting! What’s a parent to do? Here are my top ten tips to help reduce the infighting at your house:
1. Let your kids work out their differences on their own whenever possible. As long as they are not harming each other, it’s good for them to learn to work out their problems without your involvement.
2. Don’t compare your kids. Each one of them has their own strengths and weaknesses, and drawing attention to how they measure up to their sibling only adds fuel to the rivalry fire. Of course you should praise your children when they do something great, but you can do that without comparing their accomplishments (or lack thereof) to those of their siblings.
3. Try to give all of your children some one-on-one time. Believe me, this is a hard one to do when you have a houseful of kids! But, children crave the undivided attention of their parents and need it on a regular basis. Even something as simple as taking turns having a child accompany you to the grocery store will give that child alone time without the constant interruptions of their siblings.
4. For activities or items that your children frequently squabble about, set up a system. As an example, my oldest children used to practically knock each other out trying to race to the front seat of my van. They were constantly fussing with each other about who got to ride shotgun. To solve this problem now they have to take turns. And let me tell you, they keep up with whose turn it is! The same tactic can work for the television, computer, telephone, or favorite spot on the sofa. Kids need to learn to share with their siblings, and sometimes a parent developed system can help nudge them in the right direction.
5. Pay attention to your children when they are playing nicely together. So often we give our attention when they are misbehaving and withhold it when they are doing what we like! The old saying “let sleeping dogs lie” should not apply to your parenting. When they’re sharing or acting kindly to one another, tell them! Your kids cherish your praise.
6. Give each child a space in your home that belongs just to them. If they can have their own room, great. If not, just designating a special drawer or toy box that is theirs will help them develop their own identity and independence, separate from their siblings. Even a bulletin board for each sibling that highlights their artwork, awards, or good grades can help them feel good about their individual accomplishments.
7. Help your children understand early that everything is not always going to be fair. It’s a good life lesson that’s important to start teaching in the home environment at an early age. Try as you might you won’t be able to make everything exactly even between your children. It’s better for them to learn to adjust to this concept at home with their siblings, than in the workplace or school environment later in life. Of course, don’t make things completely unfair, but help them to understand that everything won’t always “equal.”
8. Spending time as a family can also help reduce sibling rivalry. Playing board games, eating dinner together, going on an outing, really any family activity can help! The more time your children spend together interacting positively under your watchful eye, the more likely they will be to turn to that behavior when you’re not watching!
9. Express your love to your children regularly. Let each one of them know that you love them unconditionally. Your love for them has nothing to do with their accomplishments. Often, siblings get jealous of each other when they feel that one does things better than the other. Show them that you love them unconditionally, not because of their strengths and talents!
10. And last but not least, talk to your kids about their feelings. Let them know that it’s okay to feel jealous of or frustrated with their siblings. Share with them your experiences with sibling rivalry growing up. They’ll love hearing stories about you and their aunts and uncles as kids and will be more likely to talk with you about their feelings since you’ve “been there, done that!”