HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
February 19, 2007, Herald Journal

Sibling rivalry, part 2: Helping our kids to get along


Sibling rivalries have been around for as long as children have been around and can certainly continue even beyond childhood. Arguments and disagreements can exist for a variety of reasons, but there are things we can do to help our kids get along and to help them deal with conflicts.

The web sites www.childdevelopmentinfo.com and www.kidshealth.org offered many of these suggestions:

• Set ground rules for acceptable behavior. Let the kids know there is no name-calling, no swearing, no yelling, no door slamming, no hitting. We need to keep our hands to ourselves.

• Ask for their input on the rules, as well as the consequences when the rules are broken. This teaches kids that they are responsible for their own actions and discourages attempts to negotiate who was “right” or “wrong.”

• At the same time, don’t dismiss or suppress your children’s feelings of anger or resentment. Anger is a normal part of being a human being but we need to learn control in how we deal with that anger. It is not okay to take out our anger in cruel and/or dangerous ways. And we need to teach and role model this to our children.

• www.childdevelopmentinfo.com noted that we need to acknowledge our children’s anger and talk it through with them. “I know that you are angry with Sam right now, but you cannot hit him.”

• Spend one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis, doing things that are directed to each individual child’s interests and needs.

• Show and tell your children that you love them unconditionally and your love for them does not come with limits.

• Do things together as a family. Have fun together as a family. www.kidshealth.org says that when families do things together, whether it’s watching a movie, playing a game, etc., it helps establish a peaceful way for children to spend time together to relate to each other. This can help ease the tension and keeps parents involved.

Fun family activities can help reduce conflict, especially since parental attention is something many kids fight over.

• Also remember that children, just as adults, need to have their own space and time to do their own things – to play with friends without a sibling tagging along, to play with toys by themselves, or to enjoy activities without having to share 50-50.

• If siblings frequently fight over the same things, develop a schedule identifying when each child “gets” the coveted item. Develop a system for taking turns for privileges as well as chores.

Who gets to choose where to eat for lunch? Who does the dishes, takes out the trash?

• Don’t make comparisons. Each child is unique and does not want to be compared or measured in relation to someone else. The child development website noted that each child in the family should be given his own goals and levels of expectation that relate only to him.

• Don’t forget to accentuate the positive and let your children know when they are exhibiting appropriate behavior. “Catch them when they are getting along well with their peers.” Many times we only pay attention when problems arise and we may ignore when children are getting along.

• When our children do fight, we, as parents, need to decide when to intervene, when to meditate, and when to let siblings try to work it out themselves. Of course, when there’s a danger of physical harm, we need to step in.

www.kidshealth.com says that if there is a concern about name-calling, etc. it’s appropriate to “coach” kids through what they are feeling by helping them use appropriate words. It is best when we do step in, to try and resolve the problems “with” the kids and not “for” them.

www.childdevelopment.com noted that when the rivalry progresses to excessive physical or verbal violence, it is important to talk with your children about what is going on and provide suggestions, such as these:

• Ignore the teasing

• Kid back in a way that is humorous.

• Tell the teaser that enough is enough.

• When these measures aren’t working ask the person in charge (parent, babysitter) for help.

The websites suggested these steps to consider when getting involved in a sibling dispute:

• Sometimes it’s best to separate the kids until they’re calm and give each space for a little while until the “waters have calmed” and the emotions have died down.

• Again, don’t put too much emphasis on figuring out which child is to blame.

• Try and set up a “win-win” situation so that each child gains something; when they both want the same toy, perhaps there’s a game they could play together instead.

Children are learning, and as they cope with disagreements and rivalries, they are also learning important skills for life, such as how to value another person’s perspective, how to control aggressive impulses and how to compromise, negotiate and get along.

A good children’s book about sibling rivalry with the popular turtle Franklin: “Franklin and Harriet,” by Paulette Bourgeois.