Siblings love each other, they hate each other, they hate to love each other, they love to hate each other but here is the truth, they are STUCK with each other.
So I get a text from my sister-in-law asking for tips on how to stop the kids from fighting, but here is the thing…you can’t stop it, but you can minimize it. The truth is that “familiarity breeds contempt.” The more comfortable we are with someone the easier it is to let down our guard and just go with our first feeling or gut reaction. One of the people you will be most familiar with growing up is definitely your sibling so they will get the brunt of your bad days. But there are ways to teach them a few things when they are young to minimize those arguments. It starts with “Mom she took my toy (that she wasn’t even playing with)” to “Mom she is SO annoying (insert eye roll).”
Teach them Empathy:
My mom once told me that no one is born with natural empathy, that it is taught. Now I don’t know if that is true or if there is scientific evidence to back that up but what I do know is once I had kids I worked hard at teaching them empathy at an early age. You know, just in case she was right. Before my children could talk if they took a toy or even yelled in public I put it in someone else’s perspective. All kids push the limits and you have to teach them those limits. Empathy helps. Ask them, “How would you like if they did that to you?” “From now on would you like me to allow your sister/brother to do that?”
It is a process. My oldest was not the best at sharing. We worked through it and through teaching empathy and good manners she had the tools to deal. But now let’s be real. She is still not the best. Usually when her sisters ask her for something they get a “FINE (insert EXASPERATED eye roll)” but then she shares and I don’t have to get involved.
Tell them that is their Best Friend:
You can’t divorce your sibling. Like it or not you are usually stuck together for the first part of your life. Remind your kids that as siblings they should have each other’s back. That they are each other’s confident and their teammate when facing the world. Make them allies so that they don’t become enemies.
Every Child is the Favorite:
So here is the thing, kids want to be the favorite, even if it is just for bragging rights. My siblings and I did it to our mom (we still do) and my kids do it to me. I even remember when my mom once took Ambien to go to sleep and she was still away and woozy my brothers and I used it as truth serum to try to pry out of her who was her favorite. She didn’t remember it but she never gave anything up. By the way, I was 22.
My children do it to me today and know my push button response which is “you are all my favorite”. However it doesn’t just end there. I make it a point to tell them why they are all my favorites. How different things about who they are and what they do makes them my favorite. How I could never compare them because they each add something so different and special to my life. How their uniqueness is their gift to me. The each struggle with not doing something as well as their sister and in many way it motivates them but they know that it does not factor into my love for them.
It is important not to compare and let them know they are all your favorite and why. When children know their place and don’t feel the need to compete with their sibling for your love and attention it minimizes fighting. They feel secure.
Establish boundaries and enforce them. Unfortunately this means you will have to play referee but it will help you in the long run. Teach them negotiation skills and conflict resolution. Trust me, this will be very handy in life. If one child grabs a toy that isn’t theirs tell them not to touch it, that it isn’t theirs and to ask their sibling nicely if they can use it. Of course what usually happens is the sibling that wasn’t even looking at their toy now is interested in playing with it just to keep it away from them. Now talk to that kid and ask them if they want to play with it or it is to bother their brother/sister. If they say they do, then it should be respected that is their toy but the other sibling should be taught to ask if they can play with it when they are done and how long do they think they will be to set an expectation. Help with this process and teach them to ask nicely and to give fair answers.
I believe it is also important how to deal with not getting what you want. The natural instinct of a child is to cry until someone fixes it for them. I tell my kids that crying is for when you are sad about something but it solves nothing when you want to do or get something. So I tell them, stop crying and tell me what you are going to do about it? How will you solve this problem? What are your options? And we walk through it. This teaches them a sense of control and it gives them back some power.
The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Hey, it’s biblical and it has survived as a sage piece of advice for a good reason. There is truth to it. I also love the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
The first quote has more to do with empathy and perspective and the other has to do with your impact on others but BOTH have to do with respect. Teach kids to respect each other not just in deed but in word as well. Teach them that they have to right to be upset but they don’t have a right to intentionally hurt others. This also is a big lesson in manners. Manners teach you to respect others. People think that manners is about being proper but in truth manner is about having consideration for the people around you. You say please and than you because it makes the person you are speaking to feel appreciated. You chew with your mouth closed so the person eating with you doesn’t have to see chewed up food in your mouth or worse, get food spit on them. Everything that is considered good manners is done for the consideration of others. Teach your child good manners, enforce good manners and you will be teaching them respect and empathy. Require it of them always.