Every parent with multiple children realizes soon enough that clashes between siblings are inevitable. It’s easy to let down on politeness with those in our family; after all, we know the love in our homes is unconditional. But doing what we can as parents, to not only keep the bickering to a minimum but also to encourage bonds of friendship between our children, gives us a way to foster harmony in our homes.
Avoid taking sides when disputes occur
When children come to you with their disputes, do your best not to take a side. Empathize with a child who is upset by acknowledging his feelings (“Wow, you look really frustrated!”) and then express your confidence that your children can solve their problem themselves. Offer guidance or suggestions as necessary, but staying out of the fight will keep you from feeling like a referee, help your children practice real-life problem-solving, and avoid either child feeling like you’re favoring one over the other. (Of course, mete out consequences for inappropriate behavior when necessary.) For more along these lines, check out Faber and Mazlish’s Siblings Without Rivalry.
Spend quality time with each child individually
Sometimes children fight to get their parents’ attention, even when the attention is negative. Spending one-on-one time with each child, even just ten minutes of uninterrupted, undivided attention, goes a long, long way toward making your child feel personally loved. When BABY’s heart is full from this kind of quality time, her good feelings often spill over into her interactions with her siblings. Everybody wins.
Facilitate pleasant interactions between siblings
While it’s impossible to forestall all conflict, being proactive about creating pleasant shared experiences between your children can help ensure that at least some of their time together involves expressions of care and love. What this looks like will be different for every family, but think about shared interests your children might have, such as a movie they’d both love to watch (make it a family date with a living room pizza picnic and popcorn) or giving them a change of scenery, or an activity that can encourage them to play nicely together (perhaps a playground, or bowling).
You can also facilitate pleasant interactions at home by framing time together as a treat. For instance, giving them a choice such as, “Would you like to do your chores alone today or would you like to help each other?” However, if the children are already irritating each other, it’s probably not a good time to try this because the togetherness won’t turn out to be a treat for anyone.
Lavish praise when children play nicely together
Rather than only addressing your children’s relationship with one another when things get tense, make it a point to notice acts of kindness or playtime that goes well. For instance, if one child shares his snack with a sibling who already finished his, say, “Oh my goodness, that was so generous of you! What a sweet brother you are.” This kind of positive feedback encourages all the children within earshot to behave similarly and also subtly underscores the trait of sibling-love that you wish to cultivate.
Remind children of things you want them to remember
This statement seems obvious, but don’t take it for granted that your children will just pick things up from you that you wish for them. Tell them explicitly: “Your brother is your best friend. Your sister will always take care of you. In our family, we use kind words and tones with our brothers and sisters.” These kinds of statements become inner mantras for them, words that they’ll internalize and eventually live by.
Set and enforce limits
Establish and clearly communicate the lines that aren’t to be crossed when interacting with siblings. For instance, you may tell your child that it’s okay to be angry and tell his brother how he feels, but it’s never okay to throw things at him. The key is to articulate that there is an acceptable way to express feelings and that unacceptable expressions will be met, every time, with a consequence. The predictability that this creates in your children’s worlds and in their interactions with each other helps them feel secure and safe even when strong feelings are flying during conflicts. Clear boundaries also help you avoid taking sides and will ultimately reduce the behavior that’s not allowed.
Give your children space from each other
If absence makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt, make sure that your children are able to have some time and space that’s theirs alone. Especially for introverts who need to recharge in peace and quiet, or children whose personalities tend to clash, deliberately creating time for each child to be with her own thoughts and activities will at least give everyone some time (yourself included) that precludes any conflict, and with any luck, this will make the time when everyone is altogether sweeter.
As children’s personalities develop, they learn to navigate how to relate to other people, siblings included – and siblings give them a lot of practice. It may seem like the fighting will never end, but consciously fostering healthy relationships between your children will help them see that they can be friends rather than foes and that the former is far preferable.
About the author:
Shifrah lives in Tallahassee, FL with her husband, four children, two cats, and dog. In the midst of mothering and writing, she enjoys reading, lifestyle photography, sewing, going to the beach, and documenting it all in pocket scrapbooks. She drinks her coffee black.