If you’re a parent of more than one child, chances are good that part of your day involves managing the squabbles between your children.
One father complained to me about what seemed to be the constant arguments between his sons. ” I thought they would be great friends. After all, they have a built in playmate,” he told me. Not surprisingly this father was an only child.
A brother or sister can be a great playmate. Siblings can also alleviate boredom by provoking, teasing and annoying one another. They can be bitter foes as well as co-conspirators.
If you worry about your children’s relationship, wondering if it will forever be acrimonious, you’re not alone. Here are some tips to foster sweet friendship and decrease the angry arguing between your children:
Teach your children how to resolve differences on their own. The process is simple, and it’s similar to what I advise parents to do to put recurring conflicts with kids to rest. When your children are arguing, have them sit with you, and ask each to explain what it is that he or she wants. They are not allowed to argue, lay blame or make excuses when the other is talking. Once they’ve each clearly expressed what they want, ask your children to figure out the best solution together, so they can both get what they want. Your job isn’t to solve the problem or provide the solution. Your job is to assist, and insist on civility and kindness as they work things out. Neither can get what he or she wants until this problem is solved in such a way that they both get what they want. Thus arguing over a television show means no one gets the remote or watches TV until they solve the problem together.
In the beginning, this process will take some time. But the more you do this with your children, the more quickly it will go. Eventually your kids will become so proficient that you won’t need to be involved in the process at all.
Set general house rules. If there’s a repeated issue that always causes friction, set a general rule that all will follow until someone has a better solution that everyone can live with. For instance, my children were responsible for emptying the dishwasher. To avoid conflict, I determined that one child was responsible for emptying the top shelf, and the other child would empty the bottom shelf. At some point, I asked if they wanted to switch the shelf each was responsible for. Neither did, since each was convinced he had the easier shelf to manage.
Another “house rule” involved playing the radio in the car. The rule was that the person who wanted silence always won. My rationale was that you can make music in your own head in silence, but you can’t make silence when music is playing. I made this rule when the children were 5 years old. Besides heading off possible disputes between my kids over the radio, it paid big dividends for me when my children became teenagers. I always wanted silence, so I always got it!
Avoid comparing your children to each other. As soon as you add a second child to the family – even when that second child arrives only a minute after the first, as was true with my twins – they are immediately competing with one another. They compete over who is smarter, funnier, cleverer, better loved by mom or dad or grandparents, who got the bigger portion, whose turn it is to ride in the front seat of the car and whose turn it is to empty the garbage.
When you start comparing one to the other, you add fuel to their competitive fire. You can’t keep other adults, such as teachers, coaches or well-meaning relatives, from doing this. But you can avoid doing this yourself.
Instead of comparing your children, ask them to engage in games where they team up and compete with you. For instance, who can get teeth brushed, changed into pajamas and into bed faster, you or them? Or who can rake all the leaves on their side of the yard first, you or them?
Allow your children to poke a little fun at each other. Remember that for your kids, a certain amount of disturbance, teasing and provoking is a source of entertainment. It may not be for you, but it isn’t always ugly anger that you’re witnessing. There were many boring Sunday afternoons at my house growing up where the best fun could be had by annoying, provoking and teasing an older sister into an argument.
Learning to ignore and tune out during these times can be helpful for you and for your children. However, there are also times where their joyful disharmony is more than you can stand. That’s a good time to set boundaries. This may be one of the house rules you want to establish. Decide ahead of time with your children where they can go to poke and prod each other without bothering adults. It could be outside on the deck, in the yard or in a child’s bedroom, depending on wherever works best to provide that buffer.
Allowing a certain amount of sibling disharmony is essential for your children. It’s from these early familial relationships that many kids learn how to get along with others, and they’ll carry these lessons with them for the rest of their lives.