Is sibling rivalry between your kids driving you nuts? Here are some solutions!
“If I hear these kids fight one more time, I’m going to lose my mind!”
Seriously, is there anything more maddening as a parent than when your kids just won’t stop fighting? I have three girls, ages 7,6, and almost 3. And while they are all best friends and love to play together, they also do their fair share of fighting.
I’m proud to say, though, that the sibling rivalry in my household is much better than it once was. Through trial & error (and reading parenting books from experts), we have managed to greatly reduce the amount of conflict.
Here are some of the practical tips, tricks, and rules that have helped me handle the sibling rivalry between my kids:
1. Name-calling is absolutely never allowed
This is a rule I decided to implement early on in my parenting journey. Too many times, fights about little things can turn into character assassination (this happens in marriages, as well). So, we don’t allow name-calling of any sort, at any time.
I may sound a little crazy, but I don’t even like light-hearted name-calling.
I know that — although something might seem harmless — it can still be hurtful and even scarring down the road. Being called names can be internalized and become negative self-talk.
I remember being teased as a kid, and I often pretended like it didn’t hurt my feelings even though it really did. Obviously, I can’t protect my kids from the whole world, but I can make sure that they aren’t called names inside their own home.
2. Take breaks when necessary
If my girls have a day where they just can’t seem to stop fighting, or if they get into an argument that is extra heated, I suggest that they take a break from each other. That way, each one has a chance to cool down.
Right now, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, so my girls are together 24/7. I can’t expect anyone to get along with someone 24 hours a day! So, I try to respect their need to be apart and encourage them to spend time alone as needed.
Don’t miss this related post: 6 Things to STOP Doing If You Want Your Kids to Get Along
3. Talk about the fights after emotions have calmed down
This tip is something that I’ve found helpful throughout my parenting journey. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about sibling rivalry, or kids not listening, or a hard day at school. You just can’t get through to kids when their emotions are roaring.
It’s best to let our kids calm down and talk to them later. While the emotions are high, the best thing you can do is empathize and help them handle those feelings in an appropriate way.
For example, if your child is extremely angry about something that her sister did, trying to rationalize with her about “why it’s really not that big of a deal” is not going to help.
Instead, empathize with her feelings (it’s helpful to label them because it makes them less scary). You can try saying, “You sound really mad. Do you want to take a break with me to calm down?” Then, after she’s calm, you can talk about the details and insert some parenting wisdom.
By the way, yelling over two kids who are yelling at each other doesn’t work. Not that I know that from experience or anything…
4. Keep your language positive
I used to say things like, “You are being such a bad girl. You just can’t listen!” or “You are being such a mean sister!” But now I try to keep my language more positive.
Instead of saying something like, “You’re being such a bad girl,” I say “I know you really are a good girl. I know you can listen because you’ve shown me that before. I want you to show me now.”
Keeping your language positive helps your kids to think positively about themselves, even if their behavior isn’t good at the moment. If they believe they “can’t listen,” they might stop trying. But if you insist that they can listen when they want to, they’ll try harder.
So instead of “You guys are always so mean to each other!” Try, “I know you guys can play nicely together. Now please show me.”
5. Encourage them to work out disputes on their own
I used to play the referee for every single dispute between my kids. But a while back (after reading Siblings Without Rivalry), I started letting them work things out on their own.
First, when they came to me with a problem, I encouraged them to come up with their own solutions. If they were arguing over a toy, for example, I would say something like:
“OK, well, we only have one of these, and there’s two of you, so what do you guys think we should do?”
As a result, they have learned to resolve small conflicts without me, and only come to me when they need to. I often overhear little arguments that are quickly resolved (and even include apologies!) without any help from me.
6. PRAISE them when they are getting along well and not fighting
One day it occurred to me that, for as much as I yelled/scolded/lectured about fighting, I never praised my kids when they were playing nicely.
Now, I try to point out whenever I see behavior that I would like to see repeated (this is another technique I learned in management).
If I see one of my girls sharing a favorite toy, or giving her sister a compliment, or simply playing for an hour without bickering — I point it out! I tell them how proud I am of them and how it makes me so happy to see them being the sweet girls that I know they are.
7. Make sure you’re not accidentally fueling the sibling rivalry
Last year, I wrote a post called 6 Things to Stop Doing If You Want Your Kids to Get Along. It got a great response and, to date, has over 160k page views.
In this post, I share how I realized that I was making several mistakes that were fueling sibling rivalry in my home. Some of my mistakes included: encouraging them to race to get things done, forcing them to share, telling them how to feel, and punishing them in front of each other (all big no-no’s for me now).
Many moms shared with me that they had “Aha!” moments after reading it. If you haven’t read that post already, take some time to read it now, so you can avoid making the same mistakes.