Sibling rivalry – part 1

Got more than one child? Chances are that a lot of your energy is spent sorting out the interactions between them. It’s a big button pusher for parents.

It’s also practice for life in the big, wide world of school, work, and interpersonal relationships.

Sibling rivalry is just conflict, and there are various conflict management tools that you can use…

  • Be a good role model. Your kids are looking at you, and they are the best imitators. If you don’t handle conflict well, your children won’t either.
  •  Make your home an emotionally safe place to be. One of your house rules should be that the home is a “no put-down zone” or stated in more positive terms a “be kind zone”. That’s no teasing or name calling by both children and parents.
  • Make your home a physically safe place to be. Have firm consequences for physical violence between children. Do you smack your children? As one parent said to me years ago “I smack my children for hitting each other, it just doesn’t make any sense”. Parenting courses like Triple P provide you with the tools for positive parenting.
  • Focus on your children’s positive behaviours. The more you focus on their positive behaviours the more positive their behaviour will be. This is backed by forty years of research. Actually pay attention to when they are getting along well, and give them descriptive praise, for example, “I really like how nicely you are playing together, you are using nice words and being kind to each other”. I ask my boys in a curious manner, how they were able to play so well together after a great session. This gives them the opportunity to reflect on what works well in getting along.
  • Encourage your kids to use “I-statements”. An I-statement focuses on you owning your own feelings, for example, “when you do … I feel …  And remember to use them yourself! However, sometimes the brother is making that high pitched noise because he knows it annoys his sister, and hearing that it makes her angry gives him the satisfaction he was seeking. I-statements are a good tool for being assertive and owning your own feelings but they don’t provide resolution in all situations.
  • When the kids are starting to get a bit scratchy with each other you can get closer to them. I call this technique “proximity and presence”. School teachers use it with disruptive students in the classroom. They get closer.
  • You can try some problem solving (from the Second Step programme)… “What’s the problem?” (get them to state the problem objectively with no blame attached) … “What are some solutions to the problem?”…For each solution ask… “is it safe?; how might other people feel about it?; is it fair?; will it work?”. I’ve used this technique with children from age 4 and up.
  • Sometimes you just have to separate kids so they can chill out for a while. Sometimes feuding kids can’t see past the overwhelm to think of other strategies, and need assistance from an adult to break the pattern of conflict.

Wow! This is such a big topic. I will have to continue it next month.

Basically, the more positive the home is the less conflict there will be, but there will always be some. Conflict provides the opportunity for greater understanding and that’s always a good thing.

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Narelle Smith

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Categories: Managing Mistaken Behaviour

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