Do you have questions about sibling rivalry or other parenting challenges? Join TODAY contributor and Positive Parenting founder Amy McCready for a Facebook chat on Thursday, June 26, at 11 a.m. ET.
While most kids count down the days left until summer vacation, parents are often counting down the days until school starts again. If the extra family closeness of summer vacation has ramped up the squabbles and fits of sibling rivalry in your home, these 10 tips can help restore harmony to your children’s relationships with each other.
1. Invest in one-on-one time.
You’ve just answered the phone or started a conversation with your spouse when a disagreement explodes in the playroom. This may seem like just an argument between siblings, but it’s likely your child trying to get your attention. The best way to reduce sibling rivalry is to make sure your children get the positive, one-on-one time with you that they need. It’s as simple as spending 10 to 15 minutes a day with each child, doing an activity they choose. When kids get the positive attention they need, they’re less likely to seek it out in negative ways.
2. Lose the labels.
When we give our children labels by referring to them as “the shy one” or “my athletic one,” for example, we may be fueling competition between our kids. Knowing that Mom calls little sister “the wild one” may make big brother feel superior, as he must be the well-behaved child. Similarly, if Dad refers to Emma as “my A-plus student,” Jake may feel less important if he’s carrying a B average. Recognize that your kids are individuals and avoid comparing them.
3. Recognize the feelings.
Try to understand how your child feels while in the midst of a sibling scuffle, and help them recognize those emotions and how to deal with them. In calm moments, talk about anger, jealousy and resentment and give them tips to work through those feelings. Encourage kids to start their sentences with “I feel,” rather than laying blame. Try role-playing more constructive ways to handle typical squabbles. Let them know that having those feelings is OK, but how they react to them may not be.
4. Just say no to tattling.
In a calm moment, talk with your kids about the difference between tattling — which is trying to get someone else in trouble — and informing or reporting, which is letting a grown-up know that someone’s hurt or in danger. Then let them know that you don’t respond to tattles, but you want to know if someone needs help. If your son comes to you with a tattle, ask if he’s trying to get his sister in trouble or if he’s trying to help her. If he wants to help, you can brainstorm ways with him on how he can solve the problem to help his sister.
5. Hang up the referee whistle.
When parents step in to break up a sibling showdown, they do so thinking it will stop the fight. But when a parent comes in and rules in favor of one child, it creates a winner and a loser — fueling the flames of sibling rivalry. Avoid picking sides and be a mediator instead of judge. Help kids come up with their own solution that both sides can feel good about. That will equip them to resolve conflicts not only with their siblings in the days and weeks to come, but in personal and professional relationships as they grow older.
6. Life’s not fair, so don’t go there.
“He has more milk than me.” “But she doesn’t have to do the laundry.” Just like whining, don’t respond to kids’ complaints about fairness. When you respond with “Well, you have more carrots” or “But she has to unload the dishwasher” or even “Well, life’s not fair,” you’re giving these discussions attention, which will only lead to more complaints in the future. Ignoring these “But he has…” statements lets kids know that there’s no use in complaining about fairness.
7. Stick to solutions.
When kids start in with a he-said, she-said argument, avoid the temptation to declare a guilty party and lay blame. Instead, encourage your kids to focus on finding solutions together. When you hear, “Harry took the football away from me,” or “Sophia is sitting in my spot,” reply with, “I’m not interested in who did what. I’m only interested in solving the problem. What ideas do you have to fix this problem?” Not only will your kids be better prepared to deal with the next sibling issue, they’ll be focused more on resolving problems they encounter in the future.
8. Let sharing be voluntary.
Cooper’s had his eye on the fire truck that Ryan’s been playing with all morning, and he just can’t wait any longer — so he tries to take the truck and pitches a fit when Ryan won’t budge. If you give in to Cooper’s tantrum and ask Ryan to hand over the truck, you’re telling Cooper he can get what he wants by throwing a fit, and Ryan isn’t likely going to want to share his toys with his brother in the future. When the fit hits, act unimpressed and unfazed. Empathize with Cooper by saying, “It’s hard to wait, I know. How about we ask Ryan if you can play with the fire truck when he’s done?” Over time, the kids will get used to asking for a turn when the other’s finished, and they’ll be less territorial and more willing to share.
9. Get on the waiting list.
Help kids learn to take turns by using a waiting list, suggests Heather Schumacher, author of "It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids." If Ellie really wants a turn with the scooter but Mason’s still using it, suggest that Ellie put her name on the waiting list. As soon as Mason’s finished, the scooter goes to the next name on the list. This works well for families, playdates or birthday parties.
10. Everyone on board.
If the kids have reached an impasse on which video game they’re going to play and refuse to find a solution, put “everyone in the same boat.” That means everyone has the same consequence if there’s no agreement — for example, the video games are unplugged for the rest of the day. Kids have more to gain by reaching a compromise than by continuing their argument, so they’re likely to end the feud. However, try to avoid going to this strategy right away — encourage finding solutions first.
Retire your referee whistle and judge’s gavel by focusing on these tips to help your kids get along better this summer. Helping them resolve small arguments will empower them to become problem solvers as they grow older and help you have a more peaceful home this summer and beyond.
TODAY Parents contributor Amy McCready is the founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and the author of "If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling." Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyMcCreadyPPS