Sibling rivalry: How to stop all the fighting

Healthy sibling relationships

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People always ask if I'm crazy when I say I want more kids. I guess the short answer is, yes, yes I am. But seriously, I think one of the best gifts I can give my kids is their siblings. That's not to say it is a cake walk–one of the hardest parts of having more than one kid is managing the relationship they have with each other. Some days it seems like they wake up with the goal of destroying one another. After a few rough weeks and after hearing a bunch of mamas talk about having some of the same issues, I decided to re-read one of my favorite parenting books called Siblings Without Rivalry (you can buy it here) but I will break down some of the most important take aways.

Don't Compare

It's so hard not to compare your kids to each other. But doing so pits them against one another. Instead just DESCRIBE what you see, what you like or don't like, or what needs to be done. Keep it based on your observation of that particular child.

 Things can't and shouldn't be “equal”

Instead of worrying about trying to make things equal, it's more important to focus on what each kid NEEDS (nothing is EVER going to be equal, but that doesn't mean it can't be fair). The last thing you want is kids feeling like one is the “favorite” and to avoid this you need to provide for each kid uniquely.

Avoid placing kids in roles

It's important not to label kids with qualities whether good or bad. Pointing at one for being social and the other for being shy only brings a bigger divide.

Does this picture look familiar? One kid puts their foot too close to the other, and all of a sudden it's on.

Okay, but they still fight…

Yes, unfortunately, some fighting is inevitable but here are some strategies to help get them to work things out on their own.

  1. Describe what you see. “Oh wow, looks like you're really angry that Charlotte is using your truck and you want to hit her with that block.” (this is where you take the block)
  2. They will likely start telling you what happened. Listen to each side with respect and without judgment.
  3. Show you understand how difficult the problem is (and remember that even though a problem may seem small to us it can seem HUGE to them…) Say something like: “Yeah it's really hard when someone is using something that is special to us.”
  4. Express confidence that they will be able to work it out on their own. If they are toddlers, prompt them with something like “Hummm you guys can figure this out together. Maybe Charlotte will play with the truck and you can play with [insert some other popular toy] and then you guys can switch?”
  5. Leave. Kids will work things out MUCH better on their own. If they aren't hurting each other let them work it out. If it sounds like it's getting too rough I will usually call out something like “It sounds like people are angry. Do you need me to come in there or can you figure it out yourselves?” More often than not they want to figure it out themselves.

And what about when they physically hurt each other….

  1. If they are about to hurt each other, then it's important to physically separate them. Remind them that they need to cool off first before they figure out a plan forward.
  2.  If you weren't fast enough (which we all know is most of the time because these little suckers are fast AF) and they have already kicked, bit, hit, slapped, stepped on etc…. Make sure to focus on the one who was hurt vs the one who did the hurting. Give a quick but firm (not angry) “We don't [insert violent action used]” and that's it.

Building a positive relationship from the start

Obviously, if kids have good feelings towards each other it will be MUCH easier for them to settle disagreements because they will want to get back to the positive relationship vs harping on the bad.

A couple of tips for building those positive sibling vibes

  1. Let them overhear you talk about how great they are as a team. “Wow, today Henry was teaching Charlotte to draw a face and Charlotte was helping Henry mix all the paints. They were really creating some great art together!”
  2. Direct them to ask for help from each other vs you.
  3. Instead of having them compete against each other as in “who can get upstairs to brush teeth the fastest” (which pits one against the other) it's better to have them work together against you or the clock. So say something like “Do you guys think you can get upstairs and brush teeth before the timer goes off? Or before I count to 30?” Something that gets them working AS A TEAM not against one another.

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