There is no closer bond than that of siblings. Growing up together, sharing secrets and dreams, and providing each other with unconditional love for years to come. Or so you thought, until your second child is born. And while you will experience those moments that will make your heart melt, like when your child teaches their younger sibling how to ride a bike or selflessly passes down a favorite toy, even the strongest sibling relationship will have rough patches. Conflict in any relationship is normal. Spouses experience it, friends experience it, and of course siblings experience it as well. However, for the parent who has to play referee the situation can feel anything but normal. In fact, you may feel like you are playing tug of war and you are the rope! The good news is that there are many effective strategies to help your family recover from the war going on in your home. Take a deep breath and try a few of these tactics.
Give equal attention – It is common for children to fight over the attention of their parents especially if they feel that one sibling receives preference over the other. And sometimes this may happen regardless of whether or not it is warranted. Make an effort to spend an equal amount of face to face time with each of your children to reinforce their importance in your life. Equal attention does not necessarily mean that you should spend the same amount of time with each child. The amount of “quality time” you spend with each of your children will depend upon their age and their own personal needs. For example, a thirteen year old may not need or want to be tucked in for bedtime whereas a five year old probably would. In larger families, it may be necessary to get out of the house if you want to spend some individual time with each of your children. Plan a fun outing for just you and them and visit a local park such as Reisterstown Regional Park or go see a fun movie at the Loews Cinemas in Owings Mills. The object is to make each child feel secure and cared for so they understand that they are loved.
Hold them accountable – When the inevitable happens and your children are involved in an argument with each other, be sure that they are each held accountable for their role in the incident. This will be an early lesson for them regarding consequences. Age appropriate discipline should be exercised if the situation warrants. For example, if your 10 year old hits their little brother they will lose TV time for one week. This also teaches them boundaries and helps them to understand the behavior that is expected of them. Encourage verbal communication with each other as a way to resolve their issue instead of fighting. The sooner your child learns how to effectively communicate their feelings, the better they will be at resolving conflict in the future.
Butt out – I know from personal experience that this one, is at times, much easier said than done. However, as long as no one is being hurt, many times it is wise for parents not to become involved. It is important for children to learn how to resolve conflicts on their own so that when they encounter difficult situations outside of the home they will know how to act appropriately. Sometimes, when a parent gets involved in a sibling argument, the parent can inadvertently make a child’s feelings of jealousy and insecurity worse. Give your children time to work it out and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
Avoid comparisons – I know it’s hard. We all want our children to be the very best they can be, but comparing your children to each other or to another child when it comes to things like academic or sports performance can cause them to feel inferior to their peers undermining their own self confidence. Not to mention that comparing children is often a dangerous thing since all children develop differently. Instead, celebrate their strengths and the amazing qualities that make them unique. Encourage them to pursue their own individuality so that they will have interests outside the home.
Keep boredom at bay – While I don’t necessarily believe in jam packing a child’s day with activities, children who are bored are much more likely to bicker and argue with their siblings (and their parents) simply because they have nothing better to do with their time. Do your best to provide engaging age appropriate activities for your children. And encourage older children to take up hobbies and learn about what interests them. When inside, let your children explore their creativity and try a craft or make up their own dance routine. Or go outside for a relaxing nature walk. When children are being active and engaged in what they are doing, they are much less likely to argue constantly.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that the arguments stop when they get older; however, with your guidance and support it is possible for them to learn to resolve their arguments in a peaceful way.