Are your kids fighting like cats and dogs? Or maybe they’re best friends one minute and mortal enemies the next? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Read on for tips on how to manage these types of stressful sibling situations.
Most of us who have siblings probably still remember the fights and arguments we used to have with our brother or sister when we were kids. From arguing who gets to sit beside Mom in the car, to who ate the last piece of cake, to whose turn it is to watch TV. It seems like siblings fight over anything and everything. Even if we’ve experienced it firsthand growing up, it’s another experience altogether when you’re the parent, and you’re watching your own children fight all the time.
We’ve picked up a few life-changing tips from the book “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who are also the authors of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”. Read on to find out their advice that may lead to a more peaceful home for your family.
1. Allow your kids to express their negative feelings and acknowledge them.
Doing this will take some getting used to if you don’t practice it yet in your household. Most parents are used to stopping their kids from complaining about their siblings. “That’s not a nice thing to say about your sister!” or “I don’t care who did what, you can’t say things like that about your younger brother. I don’t want to hear it.” Sounds familiar? Many Filipino parents (me included) have to re-learn and train themselves to allow their kids to express themselves, even if they don’t always have nice things to say.
The authors say that the only way to get over negative feelings is to have them acknowledged, not buried or dismissed. Even us grownups want to be heard when we have something to say and your kids feel the same way. Listen to them when they complain about their sibling, acknowledge their feelings, and then talk about what happened after. They are more likely to be calm and willing to listen to what you have to say.
Remember that you are allowing negative feelings but not negative actions. Don’t permit your children to hurt each other. Try this for a few weeks and see how it slowly starts to change the dynamics between your kids.
2. Avoid comparing them to each other.
We’re sure that most of you have compared one child to another, usually unconsciously. “Look at your sister finishing her food! Can’t you do the same?” or “I don’t understand why I have to keep on reminding you to do your homework. Your brother does his work all on his own.” Again, when you pay close attention to the words your kids hear, it’s no wonder siblings don’t get along sometimes. How would you feel if you were constantly being compared to someone else? You’ll probably have bad feelings towards that person or if you’re the one receiving praise all the time, you’d feel uncomfortable. The same goes for your kids.
What you can do is describe the problem. You don’t have to mention another child at all. Describe what you see or feel. For example, instead of “Why are you making such a mess when you eat? Even your baby sister eats neater than that,” say something like, “I can see a little rice on the table, it might get the table sticky.” Your child will try to stay clean instead of just hearing that he was being compared to his younger sister, again.
One important thing to remember here is children don’t need to be treated equally, they need to be treated uniquely.
3. Don’t label your child.
Similar to the point above, it’s important not to label your children. What kind of labels do parents give their kids unconsciously? “He’s good at Math, his sister is terrible.” “She’s better at sports than her brother, isn’t that funny?” or “My daughter is a people person but my son is scared of strangers.” You may think you are just pointing out facts but your children are listening and deciding whether to live up to the label you’ve given them or rebel against it. They might get pressured to stay the same way as you’ve labelled them, even if they’ve changed (which all people do).
You might say it’s good to label a child as “the smart one” so that they try to make this come true. However, this is putting unnecessary pressure on the child. Not to mention how it will make your other children feel. They might start resenting that particular sibling and have hard feelings toward them that might still be present even when they’re grownups. Yes, children do have their own natural gifts and abilities, but parents should be mindful of how they put that child in a label or box that he can’t get out of. Allow each child to be his own unique person without being pressured to be a particular way.
4. Stop playing referee and try to teach them to work it out on their own.
Parents tend to step in when kids are fighting and tell them to stop immediately or force them to become friends. Although this might be the fastest way to get some peace and quiet, your children aren’t learning anything when you do this. The book offers specific suggestions that you can do when you see them fighting:
- Acknowledge their anger – “I see one girl about to hit another girl and both of them look very mad.”
- Reflect each child’s point of view – “Anna wants the toy that Lisa is holding but Lisa is not ready to stop playing with it yet.”
- Describe the problem with respect – “This is tough. One toy and two kids.”
- Express confidence in the children’s ability to find their own solution – “I have confidence that you two can work it out.”
- Leave the room and let them work it out.
These tips will work with older kids but you can try them with slightly younger ones as well. It gives them the chance to learn important skills like compromise and negotiation. It mightl take some time before the whole family can get used to dealing with fighting this way, but we think it’s worth trying! Again, reiterate to your kids that they can be angry at each other but they can never hurt each other physically.
Every child is unique and every family is different. You’ll have to try out different methods to see what works best for your children. The most important thing to remember is that some sibling fighting is normal but the less it happens, the better. Finding solutions to these issues when your children are young will give you more peace and quiet in the present and help your kids have better relationships with each other in the future.