Tips on Handling Sibling Rivalry

At times sibling rivalry does not seem like a huge issue, kids will argue and disagree for one reason or another. But, sometimes the arguments seem constant and you feel like nothing can get done without a quarrel ensued between your kiddos. In this article, we discuss ways to handle sibling rivalry so you can bring back the peace to your home.

Having Established Rules and Boundaries

We all know sibling relationships can be complicated, but you can gain a lot of ground on sibling rivalry by having set house rules and boundaries that everyone in the home follows. Here are a few to consider:
  • People (children included) are individuals – Everyone is different and it’s ok to like different things. People can have different opinions and that is ok.
  • Taking Turns – This teaches children about being patient and understanding of each other’s needs.
  • Friendly competition – Try to channel the children’s competitive energy into a night of family-friendly games. By allowing them to compete in a friendly atmosphere, you show them that competition can be healthy.
  • Favoritism – Sometimes we find it easier to get along with some of our children, but be mindful not to have a “favorite” and treat all children equally. When dealing with disagreements be sure to hear both sides of the story.
  • Forgiveness – If difficult situations arise, work through them and let them go. Do not bring up old issues when new situations come up. Teach your children that everyone makes mistakes, and the benefit of forgiving one another and starting over.
  • No labels – Do not label people as good, bad or trouble-makers. Rather, talk about effective or appropriate behaviors. This is especially critical for children, who at a young age are forming ideas about their self-worth.
  • Timeouts – Have established timeout rules and follow through with them. You can have rules for timeouts inside or outside of the home. Remember that consistency is key.

Encouraging Positive Behavior

Once the house rules are set and everyone is aware of them, you want to encourage good behavior from your kids before conflicts arise. This could include:
  • Having behavior talks with the children early in the day when they are calm where you point out effective vs. inappropriate ways to handle their differences.
  • Reminding the children ahead of time about the behavior expected of them in and outside the house. These are quick reminders before you leave the house and right after you arrive at a destination.
  • Pointing out the positive. Catching your children acting kindly toward one another and complimenting them on those behaviors. Celebrate the good stuff and tell them how proud you are of them when they act this way.
  • Offering a reward after they show positive behaviors at the store or a friend’s house. This could be as simple as a snack, treat, small toy or even a visit to their favorite playground.

What to Do During a Disagreement Between Siblings

It is key not to wait until your children are fighting to act. But, what if things already escalated and you’re just trying to bring back the peace? First thing is for you as the adult to keep calm. It is difficult to tell kids to calm down if you are out of control yourself. Take a deep breath, then try a few of these tips as soon as you notice signs things are getting out of hand:
  • Remind the kids of their rewards for POSITIVE behavior.
  • If talking is possible at the moment, try to help each other calmly understand what is bothering the other and negotiating a compromise.
  • Mention how the current actions will result in them not getting something they are excited about doing later that day or the next.
  • Do not allow kids to hit or throw things at each other; get in between them if you must to ensure they keep their bodies to themselves.
  • Tell the kids you will leave the store/venue if they do not listen and calm down, then BE PREPARED TO DO SO. If you are shopping, it’s ok to leave your cart/bag in a corner, quickly explain to an employee that you have to go and apologize for leaving your things there. It’s not what you want, but sometimes this is the only option.
  • If the children are getting physical, then physically separate them. Allow a few minutes for everyone to calm down, then try to discuss how they can better handle things next time.
  • Have consequences ready, explain what will happen due to their poor choices and follow through with it. They really need to understand that negative behavior results in negative consequences. This could mean no electronics, no dessert, going to bed early, skipping a play date or a cancelled trip to the playground.

Most Important, Be the Example

How would you like your child to handle frustrating moments with their sibling? Keep in mind that you are your child’s most influential teacher. Parents often feel frustrated and may be tempted to scream at their kids to stop their sibling disputes, but be aware that this only teaches them to do the same when they are frustrated themselves. What you do they will emulate – the good and the not so good. Watch how you communicate with others. Allow people to have their own opinions and remain calm when disagreeing with others in your life. You will be teaching your kids a valuable lesson on keeping your cool, respecting yourself and others, as well as how to communicate when there are conflicts. These are lessons they will use daily when dealing with their sibling as children and, also, further in life when they become adults.

What do you do when there are conflicts between your children? Please share with us some of the strategies you like to use below. For more information on sibling rivalry and resources on how to address it be sure to visit Kids Visit our blog page for informative articles such as this one.