Peace and Joy: 5 Tips for Sibling Harmony
Let’s face it – sibling spats are a part of life. In fact, sibling rivalry is not only inevitable, it’s a healthy way for kids to learn how to compromise and navigate relationships. But on the downside, the constant bickering can also wreak havoc on holiday celebrations, daily life and Mom’s nerves. The goal is to achieve sibling harmony!
I appeared on the TODAY Show with Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, Child and Adolescent Psychologist and author of Princess Recoveryto discuss Sibling Rivalry. (You can watch the segment here.) Our four minutes with Kathie Lee and Hoda flew by and we weren’t able to share all of the strategies, but we’ve listed a few more tips below. Put them into practice, and over time you’ll see sibling rivalry and fighting start to decline.
Sibling Harmony Tip #1: Don’t compare or label your kids. Even subtle labels fuel sibling rivalry. If Mom refers to you as the “studious one,” by default, I assume that I’m not particularly studious. If she affectionately refers to me as “her wild one” or “her handful,” most likely, you’ll feel rather superior as the “well-behaved” one. Be aware of how you may unintentionally label your kids and fuel competition.
Sibling Harmony Tip #2: Spend one-on-one time daily with each child. The most important strategy to minimize sibling rivalry is to be deliberate about your daily one-on-one time with each child. Ten to fifteen minutes per day when your child has YOU to herself will go a long way toward reducing sibling competition for your attention.
It’s no secret that well-behaved kids are often ignored, while misbehaving kids get attention. Beat them to the punch by proactively filling their attention baskets, and you’ll find that their attention-seeing behaviors, such as squabbling, will decrease..
Sibling Harmony Tip #3: Be a mediator, not a referee. When parents referee sibling scuffles and choose sides, rivalry escalates. Our job is to mediate, not play judge and jury. Bring the parties together and help them come up with a solution that both can feel good about. That way, there are no winners and losers and they’ll learn valuable skills they’ll use in future conflicts.
Sibling Harmony Tip #4: Don’t force kids to share. Learning to share is important and so are boundaries. When kids are forced to turn to something over to a sibling, especially when it’s a new gift, they learn that sharing feels bad and they don’t want to do it again. Instead of forcing your child to “give your sister a turn”, you can say, “That’s Megan’s new toy and she’ll let you have a turn when she’s ready.” That creates a feeling of safety for Meghan and over time, she’ll feel less territorial and be willing to share on her own.
Heather Schumacher offers great advice on this topic, including the words to say, in her new book, It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. You can read more on this topic including what to do about kids who take really looooooong turns in a recent two-part guest blog post from Heather.
Sibling Harmony Tip #5: Tolerate the tantrums. Kids continue behaviors that work for them. When parents give in to a sibling’s tantrum and say “Oh, just give her a turn!” it fuels sibling rivalry and reinforces that the best tactic to get what you want is to pitch a fit. Make sure the tantrum “doesn’t work” by letting it run its course. You can empathize, “It’s hard to wait, isn’t it? Would you like to play with something else now?”
Ignoring tantrums can be especially challenging over the holidays—especially when well-meaning grandparents weigh in—but take comfort in knowing the tantruming child is merely expressing her dissatisfaction, and that’s okay. Learning to survive the mini-disappointments will serve her well in the years ahead, not to mention improve sibling harmony.