5 Ways to Turn Sibling Rivalry into Sibling Revelry
In his book Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry, Todd Cartmell tells us there are three reasons for sibling rivalry:
- Reason #1: Your children’s living-together skills are still developing.
- Reason #2: Your children live in the same house.
- Reason #3: You have more than one child.
There’s not too much a parent can do about reasons 2 and 3, but some intentional strategy in approaching reason 1 is what will turn sibling rivalry into sibling revelry and ultimately make home a safe place to be.
Strategy 1: Play Together. Every child longs to belong. When families intentionally spend time together, they increase the family bond, ultimately helping each family member feel a part of something bigger than themselves. As parents, we need to create a “we are a team” mind-set that casts a vision for each family member to be a part of a team designed to last a lifetime.
Strategy 2: Connect Individually. Children don’t vie for your attention if they know they have it already. I once heard author and speaker Elise Arndt, a mother of five, say that one goal a mom should have is to occasionally make each child feel like an only child. Mark and I have found that to be a reachable goal, and we have worked to accomplish it by taking the kids out on dates with one or both of us, taking them school shopping by themselves, spending time lying on their bed at night talking, and making sure we are in attendance at any event they are involved in.
Strategy 3: Set Clear Standards and Expectations. Most of the time, kids will rise to the standard you set. When we deal with misbehavior, it is often because the child is looking for the boundary line. Let your family know that sibling respect is the standard in your family. Discuss what is expected of them in attending one another’s extracurricular activities. You might want to occasionally call family meetings to set standards or call everyone back to a standard that seems to be slipping. You might also brainstorm as to how you can celebrate and support one another—letting the entire family help set the standard and come up with ways to carry it out.
Strategy 4: Model Healthy Conflict Resolution Skills. If Joey and Suzie see Mom and Dad yell and scream at one another in conflict, you can almost bet that, when conflict happens between the two siblings, they’ll be yelling and screaming before you know it. If you and your spouse don’t resolve conflict in a healthy way, seek out help in developing conflict management skills that will take your marriage the distance and foster healthy family relationships.
My husband and I do this ourselves as we came from opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to resolving conflict. One of us raged and one of us tried to sweep things under the carpet. Neither method was healthy, so we sought out a marriage counselor who helped us find middle ground—a strategy that fostered communication, helped us feel heard, allowed for compromise and agreement, and brought closure and healing to places we had wounded one another in the process. We learned the value of a whole apology (“I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?” “Yes, I forgive you.”) that needed to happen when we hurt one another.
Strategy 5: Teach Healthy Conflict Resolution Skills. Once Mom and Dad learn healthy conflict resolution skills, it’s time to talk about it with the kids. Even if bad conflict resolution habits have invaded your home, it’s never too late to apologize for being poor role models, explain what you’ve learned, and set new standards in place that will preserve relationships over the long haul. You might even do some role-playing with your kids to illustrate what needs to happen to make things right with another family member when someone has been intentionally or unintentionally hurt.
Taken with permission from the book My Heart’s at Home: Becoming the Intentional Mom Your Family Needs, by Jill Savage.
Jill Savage is an author, speaker, founder and CEO of Hearts at Home. She and her family live in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Normal, Illinois.