Sibling rivalry is always a popular topic with parents of two or more children. It can range from jealousy over a new baby, to physical conflict between older children and is often difficult to manage and decrease. It’s hard for young children to resolve conflict and see the point of view of other people. Two children who spend all day, every day together are bound to have disagreements and parents often have to take on the role of referee. We know how exhausting this can be, and how frustrating it is when your children don’t seem to be capable of playing nicely together.
If you have older children who wind each other up and often end up fighting we have put together a practical list of what to do once the fight has started. We know that the most common suggestion for this kind of situation is to spend time with each child individually, but we also know that it’s not always possible to do that. By following these 4 steps you can help your children learn how to end a disagreement with minimal input from you.
1. Give them a chance to resolve the situation on their own. By keeping out of the way when a disagreement starts you give your children the chance to show a bit of independence and maybe practice some negotiation skills. If you are lucky you might not need to become involved.
2. If you have to intervene, remain calm. If you enter the situation with a raised voice you are likely to escalate the situation and your children will imitate your behaviour. Briefly state what you can see is happening between them, and give a clear instruction for what they need to do next.
3. Try not to become involved in a he said, she said discussion. Most of the time the disagreement will be over something insignificant and the reason for the fight doesn’t need to be revisited. Defuse the situation, distract the children and move on.
4. Assign them individual tasks or activities to give them some time apart. Try asking one child to come and help you with something, or suggest that they move to a different location to play.
We believe that there is a positive aspect to sibling rivalry and conflict, as hard as it might be to believe when you are in the middle of the chaos. Children who have a competitive relationship with their brothers and sisters will learn valuable skills that will help them through school and their career. They can be more resilient when they are faced with challenging social situations, and be able to verbally defend themselves against friendly or not so friendly banter. Little arguments at home between siblings can be great practice for kids, and help build their confidence and assertiveness when they are faced with difficult situations outside of the home.