I have four kids ages 14, 12, 9 and 6. We're normally a pretty happy family that get along well together and do lots of fun things together. Like this summer we went to the Grand Canyon and had a great time — most of the time. But there are times when, even when we're having a lot of fun, the fun gets spoiled by the kids' fighting. It's nothing awful (i.e. there's no blood and nobody goes days without talking afterwards) but it's still really annoying and puts a dark cloud over whatever it is that we're doing.
I know that siblings can't get along all the time, but it still bothers me when they fight — a lot. As a parent, how can I help my children get along better?
Sick of Sibling Rivalry
Dear Sick of Sibling Rivalry,
First of all, you can join the sick-of-sibling-rivalry-club with the millions of parents in the world. Sibling rivalry is a very common thing. And it bothers all parents.
Secondly, you hit a nail on the head when you said that siblings can't get along all the time. As children, our siblings are our first peer group. So all the drama that you see among friends at school you'll also see at home with your kids. When you think about it, it's amazing there's not even more drama. After all, your children spend a lot more time at home than they do at school. And at school they at least get to pick who they hang out with.
As a concerned parent, it's natural to want to stop the sibling rivalry. It makes for a more peaceful home and it encourages your children to love and respect each other. And if they learn it now, then they'll always be able to turn to each other when they grow up, too. So here are some tips of how you can help your children stop their rivalry.
Give positive praises in front of your children
Everybody loves to receive praises. And when your children hear you give praises about their siblings, it gives them an example of ways to show praise and love for each other. They may feel temporarily jealous when they hear you praise their sibling but when it becomes their turn to be praised, they'll realize that the jealousy isn't necessary because you love them, too. A lot of sibling rivalry is because of jealousy. So by showing them how to overcome jealousy by giving liberal praises to everybody, will show them good things about their siblings and will help them to appreciate each other for the good things they do.
Encourage your children to support each other
As mentioned before, a lot of sibling rivalry comes from feelings of jealousy. One sibling might have a better toy or get to stay up later, etc. You can put the kibosh on so much jealousy by encouraging your children to support each other. Take the family to one of their siblings' baseball games and have a competition who can cheer the loudest. Take everyone out for ice cream afterwards to celebrate their siblings' game, etc. This will show them that it's okay and it's even nice to support each other. And when it comes their turn to be supported by the family they'll appreciate the support even more and give it to each other more often.
Remember, not all sibling rivalry is bad
Because our siblings are our first peer groups, our family is our first experience in learning conflict resolution and distress tolerance. Sibling rivalry is actually a great way for children to learn these two important life skills. As they navigate problems with their siblings, they'll learn how to get along, how to negotiate problems and how to handle that stressful feeling when you don't get along. Even though it annoys you, try to think of all the good they're getting from it (if you can.) This will help you to tolerate it more and not let it get under your skin so much.
Don't try to intervene all the time
Because not all sibling rivalry is bad, it means that you don't have to intervene every time. In fact, not intervening can help your children learn how to negotiate problems and work things out without needing a mediator. This will do wonders for them in school, in their career and with their spouse. This will also help you feel less pressure to come up with a fair resolution to every disagreement they come to you with by telling them to work it out on their own.
Sibling rivalry is a standard part of family life. With a little patience and some encouragement, you can offer positive reminders to your children how wonderful having siblings (and being a family) can be.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog RelationshipRx.net for expert information on improving your relationship without the psychobab