“When your son and daughter are fighting with each other, you want them to learn to resolve their differences successfully, but you may have never learned to successfully work through conflicts yourself. Before you can teach your kids to listen, identify the problem, express their feelings, generate solutions, and find common ground, you have to learn those problem-solving skills yourself”- Laura Davis & Janis Keyser
If you have more than one child, you’re bound to have some sibling rivalry. It’s very, very hard for children to have to share us. In fact, when a younger sibling is born, virtually all children worry that they aren’t good enough — why else would their parents have gotten a newer, younger, model?
In addition to sibling rivalry, kids can have personality clashes, or clashes because they’re different ages and want different things –or because they’re close in age and want the same things!
Finally, like other humans who live together, even the most loving siblings have bad days and conflicts. And kids don’t have the perspective to know it’s not necessarily the other person’s fault, or the skills to work out differences.
But your children can be friends for life, and your parenting can prevent and even transform sibling tensions. How?
1. Love each one best. If your child KNOWS that you could never love anyone else more than you love him, he won’t find himself jealous of his sibling very often. So your first focus needs to be strengthening and sweetening your relationship with each child.
Be sure you’re following the other recommendations on this website — Special Time one on one for each child daily, for instance. Lots of roughhousing to connect. Empathy so your child can express emotions. Loving guidance instead of punishment. Kids who are raised this way are happier and emotionally healthier, so they get along better with their siblings.
2. Don’t ever compare your kids to each other or to any other child.
3. Work to create an atmosphere of appreciation in your house.Every night at dinner, have each person find at least one specific thing to “appreciate” about each other person: “I appreciate that Jillian helped me with my homework.” “I appreciate that Mommy played my game with me.” “I appreciate that Daddy made my favorite dinner.” “I appreciate that Danny didn’t bother us when my friends came over to play.”
4. Intervene to keep kids occupied before they get bored and a fight erupts. Give attention BEFORE they fight.
5. Keep tired and hungry kids away from each other and avoid situations that create fights. For instance, separate kids in the car as much as possible. If they do have to sit in adjacent seats, give them separate tape players or IPODs and an incentive reward (“If you two can cooperate and maintain a peaceful atmosphere during our trip, we have a special treat to eat during the last half hour of the drive.”)
6. Do make sure your kids each get enough personal space. If they share a room, see if there is a way to change that. If not, paint a line down the middle of the floor, and set the furniture up to define two separate spaces.
7. Teach your children skills to get along. These aren’t skills that most of us know, so you’ll have to study up a bit, and then fake it till you make it.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can find Dr. Laura online at AhaParenting.com, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.