The glorious summer is upon you and your family as a time for fun. You’ve set up a vacation schedule full of fun and games. But wait, all is not well in this blissful paradise. As you are slumbering in the garden, relaxing to the sounds of bees buzzing in the green grass, and suddenly, you hear wails. At times you’ve felt the constant bickering and seen occasional fist fights and even tears and screaming. One of the kids is always sulking.
You thought the kids would play in the yard, careen on bicycles, or kick a ball around and then chug lemonade. Instead, you have to intervene to set things straight, more often than you’d like to. You are counting the days till school starts, already dreading trips to the pool.
What ugly monster has reared its head in your idyllic summer paradise? The green eyed monster that often attacks siblings and leads to, yes, sibling rivalry!
This is a well-known psychological phenomenon that needs to be nipped in the bud so does not take a serious turn in your kids’ adulthood. During school days, it may not be so noticeable, but when kids are constantly boxed together during the summer, this becomes very noticeable, even unbearable at times. Is it because they are bored or in constant proximity with each other or is there something deeper affecting them?
Siblings spend more time with each other than with their parents. Their relationships are often complicated based on how parents treat them, especially if treatment is based on their birth order or individual personality. They perceive unfairness, dominance and differences very keenly and, as a result, react to them in various ways.
What can you do to resolve this in a constructive fashion? After all, you could unknowingly be the source of the conflict. Each child is both vying to assert their individuality and to get your undivided attention. As a parent, it is important to set up proper ways to resolve sibling conflicts, before this rivalry becomes destructive. One thing is clear – teach them that fighting is not the way.
As a responsible parent, use this as an opportunity to teach the kids skills in conflict resolution, discussion and negotiation. Fights may be inevitable; however, show them methods to calm down before anything unforgivable occurs. Work on lessons in how to share, compromise and disagree. Once you have ingrained these ideas in them, you could leave them to their own devices. And maybe step in only if it gets vicious.
How do you tackle sibling rivalry?
With a little bit of observation and patience, you can be effective in solving these conflicts. Turning a blind eye is not the solution – ignoring the problem only makes it worse over time.
At first you need to observe patterns that each child uses in a fight carefully: what is the fight about, is one child more demanding/aggressive/bullying/docile? When do the problems occur? Who do you respond to – the one who complains? Be aware that you may be triggering the rivalry with your responses. Maybe you give in to the more vociferous and demanding child? Maybe you have favorites? How do you react? Are you letting it pass and simmer, jumping in, or giving them a chance to fix it?
Give them space apart
When a fight starts, first respond with physical separation to defuse tension and irritation. When fights escalate have the kids play in different spaces i.e. inside/outside. Do not let older siblings be pestered by younger ones, nor let them dominate. Give them time before you step in. It’s healthier for them to sort it out. Check when to step in, and check why you are stepping in.
Do not “pigeon hole” the children. Creating labels like quiet, shy, smart or athletic can set off needless competition or jealously. Singling out one is bound to create strife.
At the same time, know that each child has individual traits and needs. Check what interests them as an individual and let them decide what they want to do. One may be happier with a music class, the other with a sport. For summer camps that cater to various needs, check out our helpful listings on iQuriousKids.com.
Try not to compare one sibling to another. Although each child will have their differences, comparing them to each other only sets up a situation of competition and someone getting their feelings hurt.
Pay equal attention and time
Set up one on one time with each child that lasts at least ten minutes, so that each one receives undivided attention and love. You could just talk or do some activity together. If they get positive attention, they are less likely to look for negative attention.
Deal with feelings effectively
At a calm time, talk with your child about feelings of anger, jealousy and resentment. Give them suggestions on how to deal with them. Teach them to explore their feelings and look for a solution, rather than play the blame game or retreat into sulking.
Consistent ground rules for fights
Define what is acceptable versus unacceptable behavior in a conflict, and set the consequences of breaking these rules beforehand. No yelling, no hitting and so on.
No winners and losers
Make it clear that you will not accept one sided complaints or “tale carrying”. If a child brings to your attention a genuine problem, step in. When you step into a fight, do not declare a winner. Do not pick a side, but be a mediator.
Help them help themselves
After acknowledging their fights and rivalries, encourage them to sort it out. Some useful tactics are to tell them to take turns at something, not turn too competitive and see if they do something in collaboration, create waiting lists, move to another space or simply to share amicably.
When there is no agreement, put the same consequence on everyone. For example, lock up the TV for the entire day if they can’t agree on what to watch. This gives them an incentive for compromise.
Praise good behavior
When they sort out their fights on their own, be generous with praise.
Keep at it
Not just in the summer when rivalry gets out of hand, but all throughout the year, the skills you teach them will go a long way. They will know how to control their anger and hostility, react to provocation, deal with difficult situations, and how to broker compromises. All these skills will help them both in school as kids and as adults.
Looking to develop your child’s leadership skills? Great leaders know how to resolve conflicts effectively. Check out this listing on iQuriousKids.com for the Boykins Youth Foundation.
What works when your children fight? Or, if group play date gets contentious, how do you manage the conflict so that all ends well? Tell us in the comments below.