Managing Sibling Conflicts

Small girls (sisters) siting on bench offended after quarrel - outdoors in backyardDo you have sibling conflict problems?

Find out how to manage them and reduce your level of stress.

When you have more than one child, you may feel that much of your time is spent acting as a “referee”. Siblings generally spend alot of time together, and they have to learn to share not only their toys and living space with each other, but also your attention and time. Sibling rivalry is a fact of life and being able to recognize this is the first step. The next step is knowing what to do to help manage this in your family:

  • Talk it out: As your children grow up, they go through a lot of emotions about themselves and their sibling. Encourage them to open up and talk about how they feel and what they want to do about their feelings. Help them understand that feelings are ok to have but there are ways to address these feelings in a constructive way. The timing of when you can talk to them is likewise important. Wait until the child has calmed down and find the best time for a quick chat. Make sure that each child gets an even share of being listened to and getting a chance to express themselves.
  • Distract and re-direct: Children nowadays get stressed out just as much as adults. There are multiple demands on them and little “down time”. Be aware that there will be times when your child is too tired from school, etc. and this leads him to pick on his sibling and start a fight for no apparent reason at all. Here you can pre-empt potential squabbles by engaging your kids in activities that place little additional stress on them, e.g. cuddle up and read together, or jump on the trampoline. If needed, give your kids the opportunity to do these things without their sibling involved. You can still do this even when arguments have started.  Give the kids something to work on to refocus their annoyance from each other and guide them through shifting that anger into something interesting for both of them. Sometimes it is easier to put out the fire right away before the smoke alarm goes off.

Portrait of happy siblings lying with dog while parents resting

  • Focus on teamwork: When you find ways to refocus their energy from bickering with each other, keep in mind fun or constructive activities that they will both enjoy working on with each other. When kids experience fun and success together, they are more likely to feel more positive toward each other.
  • Give your time and attention: Take time out to play and work with your children. Up until their teens, most children want their parent’s time and positive attention more than anything else. With a multitude of daily commitments many parents find both of these things can be in short supply, but the results are worth putting in the effort. Ideally, spend one-on-one time with each children every day (even if only ten minutes) and focus solely on them and the activity you are doing together. When this isn’t possible, make a concerted effort to note things each child says or does that are positive behaviours (ones you want more of) when you are all together. This is not a competition though! Try to keep the praise roughly even for each child.

Living with siblings can be hard work, and so can parenting them! However, putting a few simple tips into practice can help everyone get along better, feel valued within the family, and reinforce the special relationships that siblings can have with each other for a lifetime.

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