My two older brothers constantly picked fights with each other. I’m talking about shouting, punching, wrestling and chair throwing. While I wasn’t engaged in any of the physical stuff, one of my brothers took special delight in teasing me to the point of tears. My mom did a lot of totally ineffective yelling. Thankfully, the three of us get along very well now, but, man, it didn’t have to be the way it was back then.
I swore, as a parent, I’d do my best to raise my children in a way that gave us peace in the house. We all want that, right? We want our kids to get along with each other so that this life-long connection of theirs will be a loving and supportive one. We want them to grow up looking forward to visiting each other on holidays, with their own kids in tow, and really enjoy being together. Right? Of course!
So how do you get there if you’re currently entrenched in sibling wars?
Start by taking a good hard look at the way you respond to your kids’ conflicts with each other. Your response can make a whole lot of difference when it comes to turning this ship around. Sometimes our kids fight and bicker and argue so frequently that we become desensitized to the noise and tension and just tune them out. You may only wake up when someone outside the immediate family notices the decibel level and comments, “Wow, it’s kinda loud in here. What’s going on with your kids?” To which you may respond, “Oh, they’re always like this.”
When you, as a parent, turns a blind eye to sibling conflict, the message you’re sending to your kids (especially to the current aggressor) is: “What you’re doing is OK with me.” But it’s not OK. Don’t accept the unacceptable. What you put up with you promote. Time for a change.
Tips to help you make a more peaceful home:
1. Tune in to the your kids’ conflicts. Disagreements are normal and beneficial in the social and emotional development of children. They need lots of practice negotiating, compromising, and problem-solving. But when hostilities between siblings heat up to the point of aggression (verbal and/or physical) your parental leadership is needed… now.
2. Stay calm. To teach kids to be respectful with each other, you need to respond to their conflicts calmly, maturely and respectfully. If you can’t do that in the moment (because your kids’ fighting has pushed your buttons way too many times), take a break… take some slow deep breaths… and then start to talk to your children about what’s going on.
3. Talk to them separately. Give each child a chance to talk to you very openly and honestly about what is at the bottom of their constant hostility. After each has told you their “side”, bring them together while you help them figure out a way respectful way through their conflict. Keep doing this and after a while your kids will do this on their own.
4. It’s your job. If you don’t teach them to deal with their emotions in productive ways so they don’t hurt each other, they won’t learn it. Ultimately your leadership will determine how your kids will resolve conflicts with each other, with peers and, later in life, with romantic partners.
If you could use some professional support, please avail yourself of parent coaching. There are many many great parent coaches who often specialize in helping parents resolve sibling conflicts. You might ask your pediatrician or your child’s school counselor for a referral.
I hope this helps.