‘THERE’S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN’, as they say, and nothing could be truer regarding the age-old issue of sibling rivalry. Cain slew Abel; Ogg probably clubbed Grogg back in the stone age; and no doubt your kids have had the odd squabble, even if they’re (like Mary Poppins) ‘practically perfect in every way’. Bickering is bad enough, but what about when you find WWIII erupting in your living room?! We’ve hand-picked advice from the top experts to help you get a handle on sibling conflict in your home.
1. DO NOTHING
“At times, I suggest that you stay out of resolving sibling conflict – if you always come to help them, you may be setting up an expectation that they will always need your help.” – Maggie Dent, parenting expert, Mum to 4 boys, and grandmother.
“Seemingly overnight, my two switched from being best friends and playmates to mortal enemies! Every toy, game, situation – everything! – set them arguing. Eventually, I figured out that I was contributing to the squabbles by stepping in to sort it out. I realised they did better if I distracted or separated them for a few minutes than if I got stuck playing referee.” – Aroha, Mum to Ollie and Max (ages 6 and 8).
If you give them the benefit of the doubt, your kids might surprise you by working things out for themselves. It’s noisy, it’s messy, it’s annoying – but this is the work of kids learning to negotiate and resolve conflict, developing
resilience, and figuring out how to get along with others.
“Sibling conflict provides an important opportunity to learn many interpersonal skills essential for healthy relationships, like listening skills, cooperation, seeing another person’s point of view, and managing emotions. Children can also learn how to solve problems, consider future possibilities, and experience the consequences of their actions.” – Corinna Jenkins Tucker and Tanya Rouleau Whitworth, ‘The Science of Siblings’.
“When there’s a recurring conflict or unresolved issue causing friction
between our kids, my wife and I sit them down for a chat. We pick a neutral moment when they’re not fighting (sometimes that’s the hardest bit!) – often after a relaxed lunch at home when nobody’s hungry, tired, or in a rush. We share what we’ve observed about the conflict – avoiding blame or accusation – and how it impacts the family as a whole. Then we encourage the kids to share their perspectives and, finally, to come up with some ideas for resolving the issue or avoiding constant confrontation over it.
“We get a say, too, but everyone gets a vote. It definitely works better when they’re involved in the process and agree on a resolution than if we just try to impose our own solution.”– Andrew, Dad to Alexia, Maddox, Xavier, and Roxy (ages 16, 14, 12, and 9).
“You are your children’s number-one role model. Your children will notice if you work out differences without fighting. If you want your children to work things out calmly and respectfully, they need to see you doing this. If you want them to be able to say sorry to others, they need to see you apologising too. It’s also helpful for children to see respectful differences of opinion. This helps them understand that not everyone will see things the same way, and that’s OK.” – Raisingchildren.net.au
4. TEAM UP
“Researchers have observed that siblings between the age of three and seven clash 3.5 times per hour on average! They followed many siblings from childhood to adulthood and noted how they got along when older. The secret to liking each other later is balancing the conflict and the fun times they had together. That made so much sense to me. I made sure my lads played heaps together … we spent hours at the beach, the park, or in the bush, where they played and had plenty of fun. So give this some thought, especially in our screen-driven world – how much fun are your kids having together?” – Maggie Dent
5. DIVIDE AND CONQUER
“Your children need to feel that you love and value them all equally so they won’t feel they have to compete for your affection and attention. You can foster these feelings by spending special time with each child regularly, giving plenty of hugs and smiles, and trying not to compare children with each other. It can also help if children have some special things of their own that they don’t have to share with siblings. A little private space – even just a drawer that siblings can’t get into – is a good idea too.” – Raisingchildren.net.au
“I’d never have believed how much a five-year-old and an eighteen-month-old could fight! But we heard at a parenting course that adding a sibling to the family was a bit like your husband coming home with a cute new wife – like, of course the older child is going to have a tough time with that change! We realised it was a major frustration for Noah that his drawings and projects were never safe from Rosie. So we created a space that she couldn’t get to, and we gave her toddler crayons for making her own scribbles. We’re also giving Noah more one-on-one time and celebrating the ’big kid’ things we get to do with him while also speaking positively about how much fun he’ll have when Rosie’s older and can join in more.” – Ella, Mum of two.
A final note: It’s vital that our homes remain a safe and nurturing space for everyone in them. So, we’ll give Maggie Dent the last word: “If there is physical aggression, you need to instantly act in a firm voice: ‘NO! Hurting each other physically is not acceptable in this house – ever. We use words to solve our problems, not our bodies.’ Separate the siblings to allow them to cool down … individually reassure them of your love … and help them work out what emotions led to the hitting (usually frustration, anger or feeling rejected). This is how we build emotional awareness, so children know that sometimes big ugly emotions can make them lash out.”