tips for dealing with sibling rivalry
Parenting

6 Things to Stop Doing If You Want Your Kids to Get Along

What you can do to help stop sibling rivalry?

 

As a mom of 3 girls, one of my strongest hopes is that my kids grow up to be close friends. I want them to love each other deeply, confide in each other, and know that they have built-in BFFs for whatever life might throw at them.

My first two girls are 16 months apart. The small age distance between them has been an enormous blessing and a massive headache! They are very attached to each other, but they are also super competitive.

They constantly fight about where to sit, who should brush their teeth first, what game they should play next, who that shirt really belongs to.

Sound familiar?

A few months ago, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was sick of saying the words “BE NICE TO YOUR SISTER” over and over again. And clearly, it wasn’t helping anyway!

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tips for dealing with sibling rivalry (6)

All of my instincts about how to deal with the bickering seemed only to be making it worse.

I picked up the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and it had some fantastic insights and advice! (At the time I’m writing this post, the book is $5 on Amazon. So worth it!)

After reading the book and contemplating how my personal behavior might be contributing to the problem, I decided to STOP doing some things to help cultivate strong relationships between my girls.

 

What I Stopped Doing to Encourage My Kids to Stop Fighting

1. Suggesting they race to do anything

Looking back, it seems crazy to me that I was constantly encouraging my girls to compete in some ways (like saying “Who can clean up the toys the fastest?”) and then yelling at them when they acted like everything was a competition.

Talk about sending mixed signals!

Now I say, “Do guys think you can both pick up your toys in less than 5 minutes?” They still enjoy the challenge, but this way, they are encouraged to work together.

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2. Comparing them to each other in any way, shape, or form

We all want to think that we never compare our kids to one another, but I was doing it all the time without even thinking about it. For example, when one of the girls would act up at dinner, I would say something like, “Look at your sister. She’s sitting there eating so nicely. Why can’t you sit there and eat nicely too?”

That might seem harmless, but those kinds of statements can create negative feelings in a child about their siblings. They might resent their brother or sister for making them look bad, or worse— they may think you’re favoring their sibling over them.

 

3. Labeling or grouping them

Have you ever said something like, “This girl is my athletic one, and this one’s my artsy one?” Or “My first kid is the calm one and my second is a wild child”?

I’ve made plenty of statements like that! But you know what I realized? This kind of labeling can breed resentment or other bad feelings too.

If my first child thinks she’s the “athletic one” and not the “artsy one,” how will she feel when we’re working on a craft together at home? She might feel like it’s not her strong suit, so why even try?

Our kids can both be athletic AND artsy. Labeling one can make the other feel as if she’ll never measure up in a certain area. We want our kids to be well-rounded, right? So why encourage them in one area and not in others?

One of our children may indeed have a passion for a specific activity, and that’s totally fine. For example, my second daughter loves dancing and is in a ballet and tap class. But her passion for dancing doesn’t mean that my other girls can’t dance their little hearts out, too.

One child’s talent or likes shouldn’t discourage the other children from that activity.  (I’m sure they’ll be comparing their skills in the future, but I’ll do my best not to add fuel to that fire.)

 

For help balancing it all, check out my post: 10 Habits that Keep Me Well and Balanced as a Mom

 

4. Punishing one in front of the other

This one should’ve been a no-brainer for me. As a former manager, I learned to “praise publicly, correct privately,” but for some reason, I didn’t apply that same lesson to my parenting.

When we punish a child in front of their siblings, we embarrass them and make them extra defensive. When we’re correcting our children, we want to tear their walls down so that we can get through to them. If they’re worried about what their siblings are thinking, we can’t achieve this goal.

Another reason to keep criticism and punishments as private as possible is to limit teasing or gloating from the siblings who aren’t in trouble. Let’s not hand out extra ammunition.

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5. Yelling at them for getting upset with each other

I have been guilty of getting upset with my kids over their emotions and even telling them how they should feel.

For example:

  • “That isn’t worth getting mad about, honey.”
  • “Are you really sad just because the baby colored that tiny bit on your picture?”
  • “You don’t need to be jealous; you had a turn yesterday.”

Telling a child they shouldn’t be mad or sad or hurt or upset or jealous about something isn’t helpful.

They can’t control how they feel, but they can control how they act. The emotion isn’t the issue—how kids deal with that emotion is.

Now, I try to empathize with how they feel and help them handle it in a better way. Here are some examples:

  • “I know that you’re mad that your sister took your toy. That would make me mad too. Do you think you can talk to her about it instead of screaming at her?”
  • “I’m sorry that the baby colored on your picture. I guess it was pretty special to you. Would you like me to make another one with you?’
  • “I know you’re feeling a little jealous. I sometimes get jealous when I want to do something, and someone else gets to instead. But then I’m extra happy when I get a turn!”

When we tell our kids how they should feel, they learn not to trust their own emotions. We should try to understand their emotions and coach them on how to deal with them in a healthy way.

(Check out How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John M. Gottman for more on emotion coaching.)

 

 

6. Forcing them to share

Every household has battles about sharing, right?

One child picks up a toy, and a second later, her sister decides she wants to play with that particular toy too.

Then you hear, “But I had it first!” or something of that nature. Screaming, crying, and tattle-telling follow. So, what do you do?

6 accidental ways parents fuel sibling rivalry

 

 

My go-to reaction was generally: “You guys need to learn to share! If you don’t, I’ll take it away, and neither of you will get it.”

OR (slightly better, I think)

“You didn’t want anything to do with that toy until you saw your sister pick it up. Why don’t you go play with something else?”

We all want our kids to share willingly and play well with others. But forcing them to share doesn’t get us closer to that goal, it only makes them bitter. Now, I try to encourage sharing without forcing it. So I say something like:

“Elyse picked up that toy first. She’s going to play with it right now, and then you can have a turn. But, Elyse, if you would like to share the toy with Evelyn now, that’s your choice. I think it would be really nice of you, but it’s up to you.”

OR

“Hmm… you both want to play with the same toy at the same time. We only have one of those, and there are two of you. What do you guys think we should do?”

9 times out of 10, my girls end up sharing if I react without anger or annoyance, but with understanding and logic. If I give them the option to share and gently encourage it, most of the time, they’ll do it willingly. And that willingness to share is what I truly want from them.

I love giving them the option to choose how to solve the problem because it teaches critical relationship skills.

When they come to me to play mediator about anything (not just about sharing), I resist the temptation to throw solutions at them and instead ask what they think they should do. The result has been that they work a lot more out between themselves without coming to me at all. That means IT’S WORKING!

I hope these suggestions help you and — if your children are constantly fighting — I hope they start getting along better soon.

helping kids be best friends and stop fighting

 

If you’ve been unknowingly fostering bad feelings between your kids like I was, it’s never too late to start doing things differently. Don’t beat yourself up; just try to do better! We are all learning during our motherhood journey.

Of course, what works in my house may not be the best for yours, but that won’t stop me from sharing what it is helping me anyway!

 

6 Things to Stop Doing if You Want Your Kids to Get Along 

41 Comments

  • Amy

    I love this! I have three kids, close in age and while I feel like they do get along really well…I love some of these insights. I will definitely pick up the book you suggested. Thanks!

      • Ariana Sanchez|Making Cents Happen

        Just by reading this, I noticed that it may be the way I react that is causing the fighting to increase in our household. I kept telling myself it was because they are out of school at the moment and just becoming annoyed by one another.

        My middle child is used to being home with toys to himself and now with his older brother around and his baby brother getting curious, there’s constant screaming.

        Thank you for sharing these. I will make sure to keep these in mine and come back to this post from time to time. As a reminder.

    • Jessica

      These are some great ideas! I never even thought about a few of these punish privately or not having them race to do anything because it creates a competition between the two. Thanks for sharing

      • Sue A.

        I NEEDED THIS TODAY! I have 5 1/2 yo boy/girl twins. ALL of these tips are what I need. We will be starting tomorrow when they wake up. Bring it on kids, bring it on! Lol!

    • Karen

      I love this! My boys are 3.5 & almost 1. They get along great right now, but your advice will help me continue to foster their bond as they grow!

    • Annie

      What a helpful, thoughtful post! My girls are 15 months apart (currently 13 months and almost 2 1/2). You make some great suggestions. My favorite is not making things a competition (because there will be plenty of that on their own, right?). Thanks again!

    • Paddu

      My girls are adults, married and live is separate continents but are not too friendly with each other right from teenage I think. Maybe it had something to do with their upbringing? I am at a loss . Maybe I have contributed to this when they were growing. I don’t know. They are one year ten months apart.

    • Jill Wanderer

      I have three boys who just turned 5, 3, and 1 I recognize everything you talked about, including that I’m a manager in my full-time job and still sometimes punish my child in front of his siblings, and should know better. I’ve always recognized the need for them to save face a little bit, and I try to make that happen; however, when it’s a really annoying situation, I find myself correcting in front of the family.

      I immediately emailed your post to my husband as well as shared on Pinterest. Thanks for the insights.

      These little guys bring me so much joy, but they sometimes make me want to pull my hair out too.:)

      Jill Wanderer

    • Tavia

      Thank you soo much for this! I am a mother of two boys 3 years apart 10 and 7. My oldest is getting to the age of wanting “his” time alone to play or read and the youngest doesn’t understand that yet. So I have found myself doing everything you stated. I sent this to my husband and as if this comment, we are turning that ship around for a happier relationship between our children and a less contentious home.
      Thank you again.

      • Melissa

        This was very helpful. My kids are 14 months apart and the bickering seems to increase as they get older they are 5 yr old girl and 6 year old boy. Some of the things you mentioned I am very guilty of and will be very mindful moving forward with the suggestions you made here. I continually read blogs like these for parenting advice because the kids did not come with a manual and I just need to ensure I’m doing it “right “ thanks so much for sharing.

    • Courtney Leidy

      This is some great advice! My kids are 15 months apart and sometimes they play nicely together, and sometimes not so much. I find myself guilty doing most of these things, so it’s nice to see what I’m doing wrong and what I can do better!

  • Chanelle Brantley

    Thank you so much for sharing! I have four and this bickering is 9 times out of 10 the source of my insanity. I am definitely going to start implementing these.

    • Mandy

      I agree! The fighting drives me nuts! I love helping them work on the skills to solve disagreements though. It’s sanity saving! Thanks for stopping by Chanelle!

  • Suzzie

    One of those times when scanning pinterest totally paid off. You’re right, I do DO number 6. I took a screenshot of your language so I can try that next time. Thank you for the tip.

  • Dipti

    Lovely article! I am going to share this with my sister who has 2 kids and is having trouble with sibling rivalry. This article will definitely benefit her.

  • Asia

    This is such great advice. I’ve honestly never even thought about this but it makes so much sense. My girls are 3 years apart but I want them to be as close as my sister and I (9 years).

  • Kim

    Wow! Thank you for this article. I am 50 years old and I do not have a close relationship with my sisters. My mother is always going on about how we “don’t get along.” It upsets her. This article describes her perfectly as a mother.
    It’s kind of sad for me. I was the brunt of her discipline and my sisters would sit by and watch and giggle because I was always in trouble… mostly because I couldn’t get them to do their chores while she was away at work. I also couldn’t do anything, “right.” I later learned to just do their chores for them so I wouldn’t get in trouble.
    My two younger sisters definitely have more of a relationship than I do with either of them. I’m not complaining but this article makes total sense. (As adults, my sisters have apologized but also realize they were just children and doing what they were allowed to get away with. I accept their apology but it still does not change our adult relationships.)
    Very sad…. Thank you for the psychology session today!!
    Mom’s…. Please always treat your children equally in front of each other.
    Again, thank you.
    Kim.

    • Mandy

      Thank you so much for the comment, Kim! I’m sorry that you had that experience as a child. I think moms don’t realize sometimes how these things can have a long term effect (I certainly didn’t think about it for the first few years). I’m glad you enjoyed the post though. I hope it can help other moms try things a different way.

  • Angela

    Wow!! great article! I have two boys ages 6 and 8 and they fight all the time. I will use these tips for sure. Thank you so much!!

  • Sarah

    Thank you so much for this post. It is so easy to overlook how we as parents are cause g much of the “problems”thatwe are constantly battling. I am grateful for the reminder to evaluate my influence on my children and to remember they are a blessing even at their most trying moments. It’s never too late! Thank u for the encouragement!

  • Priscilla

    Hi, I too have 3 girls 1st two are 15 months apart and 2nd and 3rd are 26 months apart! I have the same “wants” for my girls and also guilty of doing it saying all these things! I’m going to try super hard to work on these a new way

  • Patrice

    I love your tip about getting siblings to do something without making it a race. I find myself doing that often and you’re right, it makes them more competitive!

  • Karen

    I am guilty of so many of these but I can say that I learned early on to not compare them to each other. My girls are twins so the natural thing would be to compare them but they are polar opposites.

  • Makeda

    Thank you so much! This blog definitely relieves me from feeling like an awful parent and bad mediator. My oldest daughter is 12 years old and son is 4 years old. It’s a huge age gap and the two of them get very jealous and fight for my attention a lot . And as you said in your blog my children are very competitive. I look forward to reading the book that you recommended. I really like how you started your blog off by wanting your children to get along. That is vital in my opinion. The times i see my children getting along i am filled with joy. The times that they’re not i feel angry because nothing i do seems to make them want to love eachother and be friends. Your blog gives me so much hope. Thanks again! Can’t wait until they are getting along with no problems.

    • Mandy

      I’m glad this post gave you hope! I think we all have times where we feel like bad parents, especially when our kids are fighting. But there is hope! You’re doing great!!

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