Q: “I have a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. They get along well in the outside world, but when it’s just them at home, they butt heads all the time. My husband and I make sure to have one-on-one time with each of them, but they’re so different. Any tricks to help them get along and fight less? I’m tired of being a referee.”
A: As you know when siblings have different temperaments and interests, and are expected to play together and get along, they can really get on each other’s nerves, and on yours as well. Conflicts are normal, especially when they’re home after a long day of school, but there are things that you can do to increase the harmony.
Continue to have special time with each of your children. This time doesn’t have to be an all day event, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Have special time for 20-30 minutes a few times a week where you focus your undivided attention on one child. Follow their interests and enjoy yourself.
Have regular mealtimes and family rituals that bring siblings together. Come up with a project that you can do together, taking their lead.
Don’t expect sibling conflicts to go away, but work to teach your children how to resolve their conflicts and get their needs met. Have them do role-playing with acceptable ways to ask the other one to stop doing something that’s annoying or to listen to their requests.
Notice when the conflicts seem to happen the most, like before dinner when they’re hungry or when they first come home from school. You can pay extra attention to them at these meltdown times, and do some prevention work.
Allow each child to have boundaries with their stuff or space when they the other child doesn’t get to interfere with them.
Notice if you’re fair in your discipline, and do your best to not ask, “Who started this.” It usually takes two to tango. Separate them when things get too chaotic and they need a break from each other, and give them positive feedback when they’re treating each other well.
Do your best to help your children respect each other. You can’t control their relationship, but you can guide them with love.
Nurse Rona is the host of Childhood Matters radio show, a nurse for 44 years, a temperament specialist, and mother of four. To hear previous shows, go to www.childhoodmatters.org, and tune in Sundays 7-8AM on 98.1 KISSFM. She is also available to do individual temperament consultations, parent coaching, and workshops.