Growing up, my brother and I fought constantly over anything and everything. He wanted to watch Pokémon, I wanted to watch Charmed. He wanted tacos for dinner. I wanted spaghetti. While having one child seems tiring enough, I know that down the road there are more children in my future. And one thing I would love is to see my children get along better than my brother and I did.
Maybe that sounds a little naive? It’s a beautiful dream, of course, that my kids will magically be different from every set of siblings from Cain and Abel to Marcia and Jan. Unfortunately, I understand that sibling rivalry is an inevitability.
However, just because it’s inevitable doesn’t mean it has to be constant, damaging or unending. I’ve been lucky to gain wisdom from experienced friends and family members who have shared their tips and tricks for dealing with sibling rivalry. Below you’ll find seven tried and true ways to deal with sibling rivalry.
Get a Routine
Sit down with your spouse and come up with a set of rules for handling conflict. Examples might include:
- Use words, not violence
- Talk to the person you have the issue with first
- Call a timeout if you need to calm down
Make it a point to model and teach these rules of conflict from a young age. Parents fight too, so it’s helpful to model these conflict resolution skills in front of your kids. Help guide little ones through conflict resolution until they are old enough to understand and take responsibility.
Get Serious About Sharing
Sharing — toys, the television, your attention — is a key point of conflict for most siblings, which is why you shouldn’t hold back.
Consider having kids bunk together. Sharing a room
- Gives kids more incentive to work through disputes
- Helps them develop interpersonal skills that will help them later in life (sharing a room in college, in a first apartment, with a spouse)
- Provides unique opportunities for bonding
Sharing consequences can be helpful too. Fighting over who gets the remote? A toy? To sit next to Mommy? Thanks to fighting, the answer is: No one gets it.
Get to the Root of the Issue
Be careful not to blame sibling rivalry for every fight or outburst. Oftentimes sibling fights may just be a symptom of another issue.
Fighting with siblings might just be an outlet for:
- Large upheavals like a divorce or move
- Trouble at school
- Fluctuating hormones
- Insecurities (especially if they’re comparing themselves to their siblings)
- Substance abuse
Think the last one is reaching a bit? Roughly 50 percent of high school students use addictive substances. Emotional outbursts and emotional withdrawal can be warning signs. If the fighting suddenly gets worse or suddenly stops, ask yourself why. It’s important to get to the bottom of the problem so you can address the real issue rather than just punishing the outbursts.
Get in Tune
Birth order, age gaps and gender: All of these can affect how your kids interact and how or why they fight. I’m serious! You’d be amazed how much birth order affects personality and conflict styles.
Combine those factors with all those unique insights and facts you know about your kids and you’ll have a better grasp on what will work (or won’t work) for them.
My coworker’s kids were fighting more than ever. They couldn’t get along. They couldn’t compromise. What did she do?
She tied them together.
Sound shocking? Well, it worked. Her two kids had to spend the day connected by a piece of rope just long enough to give them privacy when they needed to use the toilet. There was no getting away from each other. They had to cooperate to get anything done.
That’s an extreme example, but sometimes you just have to get creative. Make them spend the whole day together or the entire day apart. Or try fitting consequences to actions. April takes Ben’s toy? Ben gets to pick one of April’s to keep for the day. Jake breaks Charles’ toy? Jake has to give Charles one of his toys or pay for a replacement.
A lot of sibling rivalries stem from worries that parents don’t love them equally. We can help ease those fears by committing to regular one-on-one time with each child.
My cousin has instituted three habits that work well for them. Each child has a day of the week to be Mom’s special helper. The kids rotate whose turn it is to accompany Dad on errands. Each kid gets to pick where they go for a special birthday date that’s just them, Mom and Dad.
One-on-one time can help kids feel appreciated as individuals, which means they don’t feel the need to act out just to get your attention.
Get a Thick Skin (and Ear Plugs)
My last tip may sound repetitive, but it’s still a good reminder: Some sibling rivalry is inevitable.
Kids are people too, so they’ll have good days and bad days, days when they’re testing everyone and everything, or days when they’re insecure or moody. Don’t let a few squabbles convince you that your kids hate each other. My brother may be a pain – but I could never hate him!
With time, you’ll learn when to step in and when to let them work it out: What’s normal fighting and what merits your concern. With a little guidance, your kids will grow and mature from squabbling toddlers to young adults who have learned to live with (and appreciate) each other.