Having a child is a blessing. Suddenly everything is different, and life as you knew it ends, and a wonderful new chapter begins. Having more than one child is double the blessing. But it’s also double the challenge.No matter how it happens – you’ve had twins, or you’ve remarried and now have stepchildren, or your dreams of having a large family came true — having siblings in the house is a recipe for high emotions, low moods, and downright difficult scenes sometimes.How do you handle that? And more importantly, how do you help siblings deal with each other and find a peaceful path forward for the whole family?There will always be some conflict between siblings; it’s natural and almost necessary to healthy child development. But you can teach them how to handle those conflicts by handling them well yourself.We’ve got some ideas for you on that score, on how to manage sibling arguments and lessen the stress levels for everyone.
1- Don’t Compare Them, Or At Least Don’t Verbalize It
Have you ever caught yourself saying, “why can’t you be more like your sister?” and then wanting to kick yourself for letting the sentiment slip?Your instinct to stay silent is correct; comments like that only aggravate children and make them resent their siblings more. It’s natural to compare your children a little, but the important point is – don’t say it! Keep those opinions to yourself, or share them only with your spouse.
2- Start Teaching Them Early To Use Their Words
When children get upset with you or with each other, they often lapse into furious blather or worse – unkind remarks aimed at you or their sibling.Teach them when they’re young that using the right words to express their feelings, especially anger, is the constructive way to deal with their emotions and with others. Be sure to model this behaviour! Don’t mutter in an annoyed voice at a marketing caller one day and the next; ask your child to hold their unkind anger words.Children do what they see far more than what we tell them, as most parents know. They will repeat behaviour they see in you, so make sure you’re acting as you want them to act.
3- Know When To Step In & When To Step Out
Children have to learn how to negotiate conflict eventually, but if a situation has devolved into a screaming and hitting match, it’s time to step in and take their temperatures down. Yet, in many instances, parents intervene too soon, thereby denying the siblings the opportunity of solving the situation themselves.It’s understandable that you, as a parent, hate hearing them be unkind to each other, but know when it’s appropriate to come between them and when to let them sort it out themselves. And don’t take sides unless it’s obvious one is to blame! You can calm the waters without stating or even implying that one child is right and the other completely wrong.
4- Pay Equal Attention To All Your Children
If you’ve had one child for seven years who suddenly becomes a sibling, chances are the older one is going to be jealous, at least for a while. They have had you all to themselves for years, and now they have to share you in terms of your time and energy. Saying things like, “you’ve got to be quiet so your baby brother can sleep,” is not helpful, even if it may be true.Ask your spouse to take over one duty or the other – doing something with the older child while you tend to the baby. But ignoring the first child sets up sometimes enduring grounds for jealousy and resentment that takes years to overcome. Having more than one child is exhausting – we know – but try to be as conscious as your firstborn child’s needs now as you were when they were the sole focus of your parenting attention.
5- Consider Separate Bedrooms As They Get Older
Lots of siblings love sharing bedrooms when they are toddlers and even into the tween years, but after that, most don’t. Giving them space of their own is one way to separate the siblings for several hours a day, and of course, at night. Having time alone helps us all calm down and put things into perspective, and that’s just as true for teenagers dealing with siblings. Giving them some privacy and keeping the kids apart outside of meal times and other family activities is one way to prevent fights from building in the first place.
6- Praise Them a Lot When They Deserve It
Let’s say you’ve heard nothing but arguing for the last 10 days, but tonight you’ve got an important meeting and need the eldest child to babysit. Naturally, they need to take this responsibility seriously and supervise the children while ensuring they are safe, fed and entertained.There is nothing wrong with paying your teenager for the task; you would pay a neighbour to babysit, right? That gives them the incentive to take care of their siblings well, and if you praise them for a job well done afterwards along with paying them, so much the better!The same goes for the younger child in that scenario; praise them for behaving well while you’re out. (Don’t pay them, though!) Tell them both how proud you are that they got through the evening by acting maturely with each other and that you hope the behaviour continues in the coming days and weeks.
7- Make The Rules For Acceptable Behaviour Clear
It isn’t enough to say something like, “Be nice to your brother and sister.” You must be firm and clear about what behaviour you’ll accept, but more importantly, what behaviour (and language) you won’t accept. For example, siblings swearing at each other (or heaven forbid at you!) is never acceptable and must have consequences, perhaps reduced or no screen time for a set number of days.The same goes for screaming – children need to know that is not acceptable either. Any behaviour that is not accepted by society at large should not be tolerated at home, like yelling, cursing and stomping away furiously or throwing things at each other. Unfortunately, some children do act like this with their siblings, and it is vital that you, as the authority at home, step in and make sure they know acting this way has consequences.
8- Explain That Love Comes With Limits
Siblings will sometimes say, “You let her do that,” implying that you love their sister more because she got to do something they can’t. This is why it’s vital that you explain that loving them means setting boundaries that are appropriate to their ages and experience. Explain why their sibling was allowed to do something they are not and that it is precise because you love them; you are saying no. Put it in terms they will understand, but most importantly, stress that everything you do and don’t allow them to do is out of love, concern, and care.
9- Do Fun Activities As a Family
Spending time together as a family unit is the best way to diffuse negativity and hard feelings. Choose something everyone loves doing – go to the beach for a day, for example, or rent a cottage during the summer – and spend the time getting reconnected. In these settings, siblings have the opportunity to get to know one another again and discover just how much they love each other.
10- If Things Worsen, Get Professional Help
It’s uncommon, but there are siblings who seem unable to sort through their issues and continue to fight constantly, no matter what you, as the parent, do to try to help. In that situation, consider seeing a family therapist for a few sessions.This gives everyone an equal chance to be heard, to get their feelings out in a safe environment, with no judgment. Even two or three hours with the right professional can do wonders when siblings are fractured and miserable with each other and in the family.
Siblings often go through phases of fierce fights and quick makeups for years, and then, as if by magic, the conflicts disappear with the ageing process. One goes off to university, or a young one goes to boarding school, or something else occurs that seems to deflate all the troubles. You may sometimes feel like you and your family will never arrive at that point, that level of calmness in which everybody actually enjoys being in each other’s presence.But you will. With patience, understanding and a whole lot of love and affection, your children will reach that place where they get along genuinely well. In fact, they may even struggle to remember what all the fights were about in the first place. And you, the parent, will be able to exhale and relax 🙂