My husband suggested I name this blog – ‘How to get your children to be together without killing each other’! For those of us who have two or more children, sibling rivalry is one of the toughest and most emotionally draining things of parenting that we have to deal with. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are things as parents that we can do that can really make a difference in this area, and help our children develop a strong bonding with each other and learn to resolve their conflicts and differences in a healthy way.
1. Don’t compare your children with each other
This is something that you may have heard over and over, but it’s so easy as parents to easily start doing this. ‘See how nicely your brother finishes everything on his plate’ or ‘Why can’t you keep your cupboard clean like your sister does’ or ‘Your brother studies so well, you also should study like him’. When you compare your children, it subconsciously pits them against each other and can develop long lasting resentment that can even continue into adulthood. Besides that, it can also affect their self esteem and through life they can carry a constant sense of not being good enough.
2. Put them on the same team
This is something we have found very effective. Instead of trying to get them to do something by creating a competition between them, ask them to work as a team to complete the task together. For example, instead of saying, ‘Let’s see who can finish their dinner faster’ or ‘The first person who finishes gets a chocolate’, a better way to get them to eat quickly would be, ‘If both of you finish your dinner in ten minutes, we can play a family game.’ You can do this for different things like cleaning their room, getting ready to leave the house on time, clearing the table, etc. Besides reducing the sense of rivalry between your children, it will also help develop skills of cooperation and collaboration with others to get a task done – a very useful skill to have even later on in life.
3. Model good conflict resolution
Children are constantly watching their parents. How do you resolve conflicts with your spouse and other family members? Do they see you shouting? Walking away? Sulking? Using bad language? Practice solving conflicts peacefully – talking through and discussing things. Talk to your children about ways they can solve their conflicts – by discussion, compromise, taking turns, thinking about the other person, etc.
4. Create a peaceful atmosphere in the house
Although this follows from the previous point, an atmosphere of strife breeds strife. So not just fighting between the parents, but also the way the parents speak to the children, a lot of unpredictability and change in the home, whether there is stress and tension, etc. All this can create an atmosphere of negativity in the home which can lead to higher levels of sibling rivalry. If as a parent you are short tempered or get impatient or tend to criticize, then try and work on those issues. If both parents have high stress jobs or there is a lot of tension in the house, try and change the atmosphere by taking a break over the weekend, or intentionally planning recreational and other family activities. We have found that when we slow down our pace, stop getting agitated with the children so much and spend more time with them, it automatically makes a difference to the way the children relate with each other.
5. Spend time together as a family
Not just once a year during a family vacation! But have times daily when you spend time together as a family. One of the best times to do this is meal times. Occasionally use these times to intentionally build each other up. For example, ask each person to say ‘Three nice things about each other’, or ‘Share something nice a family member did for you this week’. Besides these daily meal times, also have special family times together. Play games together or even just play with your children with their toys. Observe how they interact with each other and help them work on situations where conflict arises between them. Helping them deal with issues while you are playing with them is much more effective than having to intervene as a judge.
When sibling rivalry is dealt with at a young age, it is far more effective than when it builds up over the years. Healthy conflict resolution between siblings sets the stage for much greater success at working with other people later on in life.