As siblings get older it’s likely that at some point you will experience sibling rivalry. Sometimes it can be an ongoing struggle, sometimes something that comes and goes. Either way, it can be helpful to have some tools to tackle it.
With a few tactics up your sleeve, you can help prevent some of the squabbling and facilitate a more harmonious sibling relationship.
Quality time with each sibling
One-on-one quality time will help stop them vying for your attention through disruptive behaviour. Even negative attention is better than nothing, so making sure that each child gets even just 10mins of your undivided attention will help alleviate the sibling rivalry.
Quality time looks like:
- The child taking the lead with what activity to do together (within reason)
- Your undivided attention – no phones, TV or other distractions
- Be as present and in the moment as you can
By engaging intentionally for 10-20mins, you’re letting your child know they are important to you. At the end, tell them how much you enjoyed your time together and that you can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.
It may at times feel like you don’t have the time to set aside for this, but the pay-off will be noticeable pretty quickly and will help with the overall harmony of the household.
Give siblings conflict resolution skills
Instead of using time-out and consequences such as removing a favourite toy/activity, you can give your kids tools that teach rather than punish.
This looks like:
- Giving them language around taking turns e.g. “may I please play with…” and “I’m not finished with playing yet but you can have it when I am” is helpful.
- Playing turn taking games such as board games can help re-enforce waiting your turn.
- Encourage “I feel” statements and model them yourself. It’s ok for children to have big feelings, it’s how they express them that needs support and guidance. Giving them an emotional vocabulary by naming the big feelings for them is very helpful. For example “it makes you feel so angry when your brother interrupts your game.” By consistently naming their feeling from a young age, they will learn to identify how they feel and articulate it. A very useful skill in life that many adults struggle with, let alone children! There is also a pay-off for you if you get into the habit of naming your own emotions in front of the kids. You also become more aware of your emotions. It can be a great way to remedy a situation where you may have been more reactive than you wanted to be. This might look like “I feel really stressed right now and I need a minute to make a cup of tea” or “I’m sorry I shouted, I’m feeling stressed right now, I shouldn’t have done that.”
Model saying sorry
Asking a child to say sorry works to a degree, but if you are able to make genuine apologies to your children then they are far more likely to apologise of their own accord to you. We may just have to be a little patient to allow them to do it on their own terms. If an incident has occurred, its helpful to make clear how it has made someone feel rather than focusing on what the child has done wrong. This could look like “your brother feels really sad that his lego is destroyed” or “I feel sad and upset that we don’t have time now to go to the park”. This in turn should help siblings do the same with each other and lessen the sibling rivalry.
Pause before intervening
Often small squabbles are better off left alone for the kids to sort out themselves. You’ll be surprised how able they are to do this on their own. If it does start escalating to physically hurting or damaging behaviour then of course step in. But for the smaller squabbles, don’t give it your attention and go do something else, within earshot.
Calm the Situation
If the sibling rivalry has escalated beyond a squabble, calmly step in and without taking sides listen to what each child has to say. Help them make “I feel” statements and then without any judgement, ask them how it can be resolved and fixed. If they aren’t able to come to an agreement then you can offer some suggestions and help them reach one.
If a solution can’t be agreed upon, then without blame, give them a choice of either one solution or a consequence. This could look like “either you take turns or I take the game away for the day.” And follow through. If you do this half-heartedly and don’t follow through, it will make the situation worse. If this is a new strategy for consequences, you may initially be met with tantrums and resistance to the consequences. This they hope will persuade you to not follow through. With consistent consequences in these types of situations, the message will be clear that you mean what you say. The aim is more motivation to come to an agreement and play fairly.