That second bundle of joy arrives with more than just the need for extra storage. When I went through foster care training the first time the instructor described families like a mobile. Everything is carefully balanced, then when you add in an extra child or children, everyone and everything needs to adjust to get back to that point of balance. The adjustment that instructor was referring to was when the child enters the family. It doesn’t even count the adjustments we make to keep balanced on a daily basis. We adjust how much space everyone gets in the house, how many chores everyone gets, and how big each person’s slice of pie is. If you have more than one child, you know that equilibrium is tricky.
Science Of Rivalry
So I decided to consult a few of the commonly recommended books on sibling rivalry as well as a dozen or more articles on the subject to see if I could narrow down a formula for gaining sibling tranquility. No such luck. The books and articles hopped all over the place. Recommendations ranged from modeling behavior to respecting possessions to taking vacations together. A lot of the advice was good, as you can tell. The problem comes when you are in the parenting trenches and you want to know what to do when Norman is about to smack Joey into his place. “Vacation!” Is a call I would love to make when the going gets tough, but it is just not practical to hit the beach in the middle of every spat.
Armed with a list and some tally marks I did my best to narrow down some of the most common advice gleaned from many people who should know. Every one of these pieces of advice was found in multiple sources, so if you don’t like the take of the mom writing her opinion of something that worked for her, you can feel free to listen to the career psychologist. They often come to fairly similar conclusions.
1. Butt Out
Believe it or not one commonly found piece of advice is to be a good parent by staying out of the way. (1) This advice is NOT for those moments when child A is pushing child B headlong toward the edge of a cliff, literally or figuratively. That is when you will gather all of your hard-won parenting wits about you and head into the fray. For your run-of-the-mill everyday disagreements, a listening ear may be enough, even if your ear is around the corner.
Letting your kids resolve problems on their own can be empowering and teach them valuable social skills they could use the rest of their lives. If they need just a bit of oversight you may try repeating back to them what you are observing without judgement, which is basically the next best thing to staying out of it altogether. (2) You may be surprised how many situations end up resolving themselves if you just give them a chance.
2. Model Behavior
Your kids aren’t the only people in the house who need to navigate disagreements and disappointments. Your reaction to similar situations can set the tone for how quickly your kids’ interactions escalate. As obnoxious as it is when your spouse forgets to take the trash out and you are stuck with stinky banana peels for another week, remember that berating your partner in front of your kids can lead to more than just a sulky spouse. Over time, your kids may see that as a way to deal with conflict themselves. (3) Alternatively, kids also see the understanding you show to the waiter that gets your order wrong, or the kindness of checking in on your mom. (4) You will make mistakes, but when you do, you can use that opportunity to model humility and forgiveness to your kids. (5)
3. Teach Your Kids
As you would expect as a parent, there are skills that just need to be taught. Kids need to be given the appropriate language to speak what they want rather than lash out and feel misunderstood. (6) If you teach your kids that they have the right to not be pinched and to say so, they may speak up for
themselves, ending some conflict before it escalates.
Another way to teach your kids is to make sure they understand your expectations of them clearly. (7) They should know where your line is drawn. Will they lose tv privileges for hitting, or are the consequences hit or miss? If they know ahead of time what is at stake they may develop the presence of mind to slow down their reactions.
Consistency is not only helpful when it comes to consequences. You and your spouse should have an idea how each other will react to rivalry. You should do your best to make sure what happens on your watch doesn’t conflict with the other spouse’s standards too drastically. The more children understand how things work and what’s expected the more they have the option to make the right choice.
4. Make Everyone Heard
By the time you hear crying or crashing any number of scenarios may have occurred. You could put the dots together and deliver a verdict on your own. A better approach for long term success is making sure everyone is heard and you have all the facts. (8) Kids will feel respected and valued when you listen to them.(9) They won’t feel as much of a need to act up to get your attention because you are already listening. You are also more likely to encourage the truth and get to the bottom of the situation. Accurate verdicts always feel better than bad guesses.
5. Don’t Compare
How many of you could never measure up to your smarter, better behaved sibling? Doesn’t that insecurity stay with you a long time? Comparing doesn’t end well for anyone. (10) Not only can the comparison breed resentment and envy in the one who comes up short, it can make the one on the pedestal feel frantic about maintaining their favored position. (11) The competition that comes from comparison is rarely the kind that leads to long-term success. Overall, members of a family need to be each others cheerleaders. If competition is motivating to someone in the family it is probably best for that to be fulfilled outside the family, rather than be instigated by a parent.
6. Love Uniquely
Because every child is different, our plan for dealing with them and their siblings shouldn’t be the same. If one of our children only needs a slight reminder to get back on the right path he should get a quiet reprimand. The one who couldn’t care less about responsibility even after multiple layers of consequences will require more convincing. Being completely fair about consequences could backfire. (12) If children see you react to them in light of who they are as a person they are more likely to feel respected and understood. When you are trying to help siblings get along you can guide them according to their differing strengths and weaknesses. This can make family members feel valued and recognize the value in others. (13)
Life With Rivalry
One thing is for certain, as much as you perfect each of these techniques,
sibling rivalry will not be abolished from your house. Where there is more than one sibling there is bound to be tension at some point. Tension doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing. Do your best to teach your children how to deal with disagreements effectively and they can reap lifelong benefits. After all, the world doesn’t need people who are constantly polite and demure. Understanding how to stand up for things they believe in respectfully against naysayers could cause your children to change the world.
- “Sibling Rivalry.” Kids Health, edited by Jennifer Shroff,Pendley, Sept. 2016, kidshealth.org/en/parents/sibling-rivalry.html.
- Tamm, Lauren. “Siblings fighting? Try This Magical Tip to Help Siblings Get Along.” The Military Wife and Mom, themilitarywifeandmom.com/helping-siblings-get-along/ .
- Wallace, Jennifer, and Lisa Heffernan. “Less bickering, more bonding: How to help siblings get along.” The Washington Post, 29 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parentin/less-bickering-more-bonding-how-to-help-siblingsget-along/2017/08/28/b096f83e-7d48-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html?utm_term=.27107227e68f.
- Meeker, Meg. “Ask Dr. Meg: Helping Siblings Get Along.” Meg Meeker MD, 20 May 2011, www.megmeekermd.com/blog/ask-dr-meg-helping-siblings-get-along/ . Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.
- Pellissier, Hank. “Nine Ways to Help Siblings Get Along Better.” Greater Good, 5 Apr. 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/nine_ways_to_help_siblings_get_along_better.
- Markham, Laura. “Siblings 101.” Aha Parenting, 2019, www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/siblings/siblings-101.
- Rosen, Peg. “Sibling Harmony: Help Your Kids Get Along.” Family Circle, Mar. 2008, www.familycircle.com/teen/parenting/communicating/sibling-harmony-help-your-kids-get-along/.
- Eanes, Rebecca. “Help Siblings Get Along With These Five Positive Parenting Tools.” Positive Parenting Connection, 11 Mar. 2018, www.positiveparentingconnection.net/help-siblings-get-along-five-positive-parenting-tools/.
- “The Skill of Listening.” Center For Parenting Education, centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/healthy-communication/the-skill-of-listening/.
- Amann, Laura. “8 Tips to Help Siblings to Get Along.” Chicago Parent, 25 Jan. 2011, www.chicagoparent.com/learn/general-parenting/help-siblings-get-along/.
- Eanes, Rebecca. “The secret to raising siblings who get along.” Motherly, www.mother.ly/child/the-secret-to-raising-siblings-who-get-along.
- Rabkin Peachman, Rachel. “How to Help Young Siblings Bond.” Parents, www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/helping-siblings-bond/ .
- “Coping With Sibling Rivalry.” Center For Parenting Education, centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/sibling-rivalry/coping-sibling-rivalry/.