Having more than one child so they could keep each other company seemed like such a good idea at the time, didn’t it? However, if your household is anything like mine, most days you probably feel as much like a referee as a parent.
It’s an accepted fact that all kids squabble and it is unrealistic to expect our children to get along all the time. After all, even adults living together have their arguments. However, sibling rivalry can really take its toll on a family when it is constant.
To understand why kids fight, it is important to get to the root cause of the issue. It could be one of the following or even a combination:
- Age difference
- Personality dynamics
- Vying for parental attention
- Having to share possessions such as toys, bedroom, TV etc.
- Sickness/special physical or emotional needs
My household is a perfect example of a combination of all of the above. In a house with a three year old, eight year old and ten year old all with very different personalities, someone always feels wronged.
It might be about who picked the last Play Station game, the boys arguing over who messed up their shared bedroom, the toddler ruining a game or someone breathing someone else’s air. It never ends.
Throw in the added complications of being a sole parent family, a child with sensory issues and an exceptionally overbearing youngest it’s no wonder I can relate to the saying “Love is a battlefield.”
It can be hard to know how to handle sibling squabbles, whether to intervene or left them fight it out. It’s tough seeing our children distressed, especially when another one of our children was the cause of it! Our loyalties can be torn and it is often hard to know who started what.
Here are some things to try to manage sibling rivalry:
Make sure everyone understands the house rules. This can be tricky for little ones so constant reinforcement is the key here. For example, “We keep our hands and feet to ourselves” or “We don’t call names”. For older children it can be valuable to get them involved in making the house rules by asking them how they like to be treated and what others do may do that makes them upset or uncomfortable. It is important to set clear consequences for unacceptable behaviour as well, regardless of how the conflict initiated.
Try not to get involved. Unless there is physical violence or some other sort of unacceptable behaviour, hang up your referee’s whistle. Let them develop their problem solving skills to resolve conflict where practicable. Any intervention by you can further aggravate feelings of injustice as it may be viewed as you siding with one child over the other. It also saves the drama of finding out what actually. Avoid all of the “he said” “she said” nonsense if you can. If an unacceptable behaviour such as hitting occurs, be consistent with your consequences as per house rules.
Don’t set up the expectation that everything should be equal or fair. Just because one child is able to do something, does not automatically mean everyone gets the same. This is particularly relevant with age differences. Your primary school child should not expect the same privileges as their teenage sibling. Likewise, if a child is sick or struggling with something they may need extra attention or parental support. And your other children need to know that that is perfectly ok, because their time will undoubtedly come.
Spend time doing fun things as a family. Enjoyable time spent together helps build the bond between siblings through shared experiences. It also means if you are all together, any conflict over parental attention will be reduced. Board games, outdoor activities and outings, watching movies, are all good ways to spend family time.
Spend time with each individual child. By spending quality time with each child by themselves, you reinforce their relationship with you and make them feel loved and secure, reducing jealousy and the battle for attention. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, maybe just a simple activity that you both enjoy. By recognising when each child needs their own space and fostering their individual interests, you child will feel valued for who they are and will hopefully feel less need to compete with their siblings. Importantly, don’t compare them to their siblings or pigeonhole them.
Teach them how to be problem solvers. Model positive conflict resolution skills yourself as this is the biggest way children learn. Teach them to look for alternative solutions, how to compromise, respect other people’s opinions and space and how to talk about issues.
Juggling the competing needs of all members of a family is extremely challenging. Everyone can’t be happy all the time. Children need to learn we cannot always fight their battles for them but we are always there to provide love and support.
By persevering and teaching our children skills to resolve conflict, communicate with each other and build their own resilience, we are helping equip them to effectively deal with other difficult situations throughout life.