This sibling rivalry post is a guest post written by UK-based parent coach, Jane Rogers.
“All right, that’s it’ I shouted, I’ve had enough of your fighting. I’m fed up. Go to your rooms!” Although my children are now in their twenties I still remember how stressful I found the whole sibling rivalry thing. Then at the tail end of one summer break, when I was feeling particularly desperate for the school year to start again, I had a sudden ‘lightbulb’ moment. Do you know that moment? That “ah-yes”, total moment of clarity?
My response wasn’t working. That is the only thing I knew for certain. Why, then, would I keep doing it? We all know children need praise and approval within context. They need to know when they are doing something of which you disapprove.
At the time I had a friend with four children under the age of ten. I remember thinking: “How does she do it?” She always seemed calm and laid back, and, for the most part, her children simply got along. So, I decided to observe her. After spending time watching the way she dealt with things when her kids did squabble, and reading a bit on the subject of sibling rivalry, I came up with a plan.
3 Brilliant Parenting Ideas to Abolish Sibling Rivalry
#1 – Think: ‘What do I want my children to learn?’
Many of these stressful situations can actually present a good opportunity to teach your kids how to handle disagreements. Instead of reacting in the moment, take a breath, count to three, and take a different approach. Ask yourself: ‘What can I teach my child at this moment? What do I want them to learn?”
Instead, if you decide to intervene, try this approach:
In a calm and even tone, state: “I see you two have a problem. What’s going on?”
Then the following ensues: Brother says that sister is hogging the laptop. Sister denies it. Brother keeps trying to snatch it from her.
‘That is a problem. Only one laptop and you both want it.” (said calmly)
At this point, ask your children if they have any ideas on how to solve the problem.
If they don’t know, offer guidance by asking them if they'd like a few ideas from you. If they agree to the solution you have found together and the problem is solved, praise them for their ‘good’ behaviour “Well done. You worked it out. That was sensible.”
Learning Point: When you have a disagreement with someone, the best thing to do is to talk about it calmly and try to come up with a solution or compromise. You modeled the behavior you want to see in your children: how to stay calm and treat people with respect, even if they are getting on your nerves.
#2 – Encourage: Time apart
This point works particularly well on school vacations and on wet weekends when just being with each other all the time can lead to more squabbles and disagreements. Provided your children are old enough and can manage time entertaining themselves alone, have a rule that at a particular time of day, after lunch for example, everyone spends some time on their own doing something they love (including you, no rushing around tidying up, sit down for half an hour with a cup of tea and the paper!).
Learning Point: Be proactive about this approach. Talk about this before you put the rule in place and get everyone to offer up what they might do, ask them what they think the benefits of this quiet time might be. Make this a regular part of your routine and try to re-group and do something nice together afterwards. Make sure you tell your kids that you enjoy being with them, such a simple thing, but easily forgotten when being with them can often be so stressful!
#3 – Ignore: Don't react and let it work itself out.
There are times you may choose to intervene, but there are good reasons why you should occasionally try to ignore this behavior. I don’t mean the stuff where someone is going to get hurt, or the type of sibling rivalry that is beginning to look like bullying, just the low-level bickering, arguing, complaining, tale telling etc. You know the kind of fighting I mean.
I used to get this sort of thing from my boys a lot. I ignored it when I could, and by ‘ignore’ I mean I would maybe say something like “I’m sure you can sort it out” or “That sounds tough, I’m sure you can sort it out,’ or ‘that’s a shame, I’m sure you can sort it out.’ If the child then said no they couldn’t and demanded more, I would repeat “I’m sure you can sort it out” (as many times as necessary, it’s called the “broken record” technique). I would refuse to get involved. Eventually, it worked out and my children started to sort problems themselves.
Learning Point: Why ignore? If you let the fighting push your buttons every time, it will happen all the more. You will end up giving a lot of negative attention and reinforcing the behavior.
Constant arguing and fighting can be very wearing for everybody. I was tearing my hair out with my boys. Then I decided to do something differently. Now they are grown up, in their early twenties, and I’m happy to say that they are close and get on well. There were moments that I never thought I would see that day. Sure enough, with a bit of patience and perseverance, the day arrived. It'll get there for you, too.
For more about sibling rivalry, check out What is Bullying & What Parents Can Do to Help Stop It.
More about the author:
Jane Rogers lives in the UK and is founder of The Cambridge Parent Coach. She is experienced in running a number of highly regarded parenting courses, and writes and runs her own workshops for parents, designed to help solve all those day-to-day parenting problems quickly and easily. She writes and runs workshops for parents and has many years of experience working with families. Jane is passionate about Positive Parenting and her aim is to share the ethos and ideas of this style of parenting in a way that is simple to understand, and easy to put into practice. To find out more about her work visit The Cambridge Parent Coach. Jane is currently adapting her workshops into workbooks for parents. The first workbook is available on Amazon and is titled: ‘How to Encourage Good behaviour, so you can Enjoy Your Children’.