It doesn’t matter what the age gap is or how many children you have to ‘balance’ the family, you will at some point find yourself saying ‘Why can’t they just get along?! And the recent enforced family time has no doubt seen many happy moments suddenly end in tears, tantrums, name calling and door slamming.
I guarantee that if you have more than one child, sibling rivalry will happen. Do not believe for one minute the parent who says, ‘oh my children are the best of friends and never argue’ they are either hiding it well or they just have not reached ‘that stage’ yet.
Children feel competitive towards their brothers or sisters for all sorts of reasons, being the oldest and therefore more likely to be made to do chores, give up a toy, look after their younger siblings when they want to go out with their own friends, being the youngest and therefore envious of the freedom their older siblings get, can’t stay up as late with Mum and Dad, always having hand me downs and nothing new, the middle child because they are squashed between a demanding toddler and a stroppy teen and generally get less attention. Children could be blended because you have formed a new family and the have’s and have nots prior to that can lead to difficulties. The list goes on and on for reasons why our children can feel competitive towards each other but there are things you can do to make the household a happier environment and try and help brothers and sisters to get along.
Young children struggle to express their feelings, often because they don’t’ really understand them themselves, they just feel an urge to lash out or be naughty or shout. You are never going to get rid of sibling rivalry completely, human nature makes us envious of other people and I am sure however well you get on with your own siblings now there are times when you feel angry, upset or simply resentful of them, as adults we are just better at hiding those feelings and not allowing them to impact on our everyday lives. Of course, each child is born with a natural rite of passage to find their niche within the family dynamic. We usually expect this to happen naturally, and even if we do everything we can to encourage individuality and peaceful relationships, this does not always run as smoothly as we would like. We tend to think that children are blank canvases in many ways, but just like adults, they have personality traits unique to them and which can clash with those of others.
Here are some tips on how to help reduce sibling rivalry in your household and encourage peace to reign once more!
- Lose the Labels
Avoid ‘labelling’ – it is a difficult task praising one child whilst trying not to make another feel left out, but try not to use labels for each child, e.g. ‘the sporty one’ or ‘the naughty one’. You can bet your life that the siblings of each of these will automatically feel like the total opposite, i.e. bad at sports and therefore inferior, or more well behaved and therefore superior. Labels simply add fuel to the fire of sibling rivalry. We don’t mean anything by it we are proud of all our children’s talents and see the good in all of them, but growing up hearing how bad we are at something and how your brother / sister excel at it makes us draw comparisons and increases how competitive we are with each other or simply means we stop trying at something because we’ve been told we aren’t good at it. By labelling our children we put them into boxes and create an unintentional comparison between siblings.
- Arrange for Attention
I have spoken before about how much I struggle to spend individual time with mine as there is a large age gap. As a busy working Mum it’s difficult to find time in the day when I can give either of my children my undivided attention, particularly my older child as my younger one doesn’t necessarily understand that that his her time and he needs to do something on his own. Because of the nature of my job I am often working in the evenings and of course M is at school in the day. But I have found it really important to schedule 10 or 15 minutes each day to spend quality one on one time with each of them so that I can catch up with their news, check in on their day and generally ensure that all is well in their world, or in L’s case just put on fancy dress and parade around like a fairy (look out for next week’s post!!). Make sure that this time is about them and not about the fact that they haven’t done their homework or that you are scrolling through your phone as you build Lego blocks, totally focus on them and their needs.
By committing to this your children will not feel that you only have time for the older/ younger one and will respond in a positive way to things rather than negatively to get your attention.
- Encourage teamwork
By encouraging siblings to work together on projects, you will increase the strength of the bond between them. Try to set them a little task every day together, which takes concentration and will hold their interest. If it is time to put toys away, set the clock and get them both to race against it, instead of against each other. For sporty older kids set up a football game where they play together against other children on the street. Find things that you can all do and enjoy together so that they all get the best of your attention and enjoy spending time together. The chances are they will learn to love the same things and eventually naturally do these activities together and enjoy them.
- Prepare for Peace
Teach your children how to resolve conflict. This is not only important at home but something that they will need to learn as they grow into mature and capable adults. Encouraging them to ask before they take a toy to play with, compromise over who plays on the swing / bike etc. When they are small they may need you to help with this but as they get older encouraging them to resolve their own arguments and explaining why they are cross with their sibling will really benefit them and of course learning to count to 10 and walk away is something we should all be able to do in the face of someone simply not listening or compromising! So often parents will take the side of the younger child simply for an easy life so teaching them to resolve squabbles and ignoring disagreements when they start will ensure that 9 times out of 10 most children will stop the attention seeking behaviour that children’s squabbles are so often about.
- Put them all in the same boat
If they can’t resolve the argument make sure that the consequences are the same for everyone, so if a toy can’t be shared it’s put away for an agreed time, not until one of them is distracted with something else and the other one asks for it. Children will eventually learn that you mean business and the threat of taking away a toy, stopping a game or not going out if they can’t agree on where and that it is in their own interest to reach a compromise if they don’t want to lose out completely. Whatever you do don’t take sides.
- Final Thoughts
Don’t panic, all children fight, remember they are at probably at different stages in life and could be going though other things that make them slightly more moody or worried, it doesn’t allow them to be physically or verbally abusive to their siblings or you and they need to learn coping strategies to deal with things rather than lashing out at the nearest person. By following these tips and remembering that they are all individuals with different temperament’s, abilities, weaknesses and strengths this will help you treat them the same but different! Show them the difference between fairness and equality – if a younger child is upset because the older one gets to stay up longer, explain that this is fair because of the age difference. They are still equal and remind the younger one of fair privileges that they get for being younger, for example not having as much homework to do. If they can grasp this and be reminded of it, you will hopefully hear less of the old ‘it’s not fair!’ from now on!
Do you agree with these tips? Either way, we welcome your comments and would love to hear what you have to say and your experiences of dealing with sibling rivalry. Pop over to our Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/sleepfairydee/ and leave a comment.