If you have more than one child, you’ve likely wondered, at least a time or two, just how much sibling squabbling is normal. Should they mostly be buddies with a few dust-ups every now and then? Should they be able to ride in the car together without breaking into an argument about who is looking at who? What about sharing their toys without tears? Or helping one another out with household chores? And how come the neighbors’ kids seem to be best friends all day every day but your house turns into WWE over who gets the last purple popsicle?
The truth is, every family dynamic is different and each child’s relationships with each other child in the family will depend on a number of factors such as their own personality, their living situation, their ability to cope with minor annoyances, and their social skills.
Make a plan to help them fight fair
Disagreements between people who live together are 100% normal. There’s no way to move through everyday life in the same home as someone else without experiencing minor annoyances or differences of opinion. What matters most is how we deal with these disagreements.
Sit down with your kids and make a plan to fight fair, that is, figure out how they’ll handle disagreements without hurting one another’s feelings. Rules like “no name-calling,” “no yelling,” and “say exactly what you’re mad about” can help kids learn to have productive disagreements that can actually strengthen their relationship in the long run.
Create opportunities for space
As much as siblings might enjoy one another, it’s important for them to have opportunities to spend time apart. Do your best to have one-on-one time with each child at least once per week (ideally each day, even for a little while), and give them all your focus and attention. Consider offering each child the chance to participate in activities on their own without their siblings or explore interests that are just their own.
Intentionally build positive moments
Getting along isn’t just about not fighting. As a parent, you have the power to help create opportunities for them to really connect with one another. Let them spend lots of time outdoors in open-ended play, offer them adventures, and do your best to set up opportunities for them to do something fun if they collaborate. Letting them take control of things together, from planning dinner to planning a vacation, will help create positive connections and memories that will buoy them through temporary annoyances and frustrations.
Stay out of it
When kids fight we might be tempted to step in and play the role of referee. As long as no one is getting hurt though, stepping in can sometimes do more harm than good. When you referee you create the potential for one child to feel like you’re siding with the other, deepening the hurt they may be feeling already, and robbing them of the opportunity to practice solving problems together.
Next time your kids argue, try to facilitate their discussion rather than solve it for them. Questions like “how do you think this should be resolved” or “how would you feel if the situation were reversed?” can allow you to remain a neutral party as they discover their own conflict resolution skills.
Siblings are often a child’s first friends and one of their most intense relationships. Doing your part to help them build a positive relationship can go a long way in terms of helping them get along.