If I had a dollar for every time my son yells, “She’s making a mean face at me,” or my daughter says, “He’s touching me,” I would be rich. If you have more than one child in your house, odds are they’re best friends one minute and arguing with each other 87 seconds later.
Siblings argue for different reasons depending on their personality and their age. When children are young, they often argue over toys and their parents’ attention. As they become teenagers, the arguments often are over sharing things like the family car and computers. Teens also become jealous of their siblings over accomplishments, such as academics, sports, or popularity issues.
“When children are given the opportunity to work out problems with their siblings, they learn lifelong negotiation skills and how to get along with others, which requires consideration, compromise, and reconciliation,” says Susan Tordella, founder of raisingable.com.
Although there’s no magic cure to stop arguments and jealousy, here are some ways to reduce sibling rivalry in your house:
1. Hold regular family meetings
Family meetings can be a great place for siblings to discuss issues that have been bothering them and reduce arguments. Tordella suggests having a family meeting two to four times a month. “Every family member takes a turn running the family meetings and taking notes,” she says. She also recommends keeping an open family meeting agenda on the refrigerator so everyone can add items to it as they think of them.
2. Be a coach, not a referee
When possible, encourage your children to work out the problem themselves. Tordella recommends that parents say, “I know you can come up with a solution,” and walk away. “It’s amazing how conflicts dissipate when there’s no audience,” she says. This technique also teaches problem resolution skills. The hope is they’ll eventually resolve arguments without your assistance. The exceptions are when there’s a physical argument or if one child consistently picks on the other.
3. Separate your kids
The best way to ensure that your children want to be near each other is to suggest they stay apart. Oftentimes, though, some space between them can end an argument. If your kids have a tough time getting along, help them to engage in separate activities. You may have to find activities for each one that the other isn’t interested in, or send one child to a friend’s house to play.
4. Talk about respect
If you preschooler grabs his sister’s book from her hands or your teenager badmouths her brother to her friends, they’re not respecting their sibling. Make respect a family value. Talk about how you should respect yourself, other people, animals, and your belongings. Creating this emphasis makes it easier to apply the concept to various sibling rivalry issues.
5. Put the toy in timeout
When your child can’t figure out how to share a toy or other item, such as video game or computer, remove the item so neither child can use it. Explain that the toy is in timeout until they can figure out a way to share it. “If they can’t agree on what TV program to watch, turn off the TV. If they fight over which car they get to use on Friday night, don’t let them use either car,” says Tordella. “This takes parents out of the role of judge/jury/executioner and taking sides.”
Whenever my kids’ bickering reaches new heights, I remind myself of the afternoon of the infamous argument with my sister. I don’t remember what it was about, but my parents enjoy reminding us that it ended with us rolling around the front yard. Twenty-five years later, I talk to my sister most days on the phone and can honestly say she’s my best friend. I can only hope that one day my son and daughter will feel the same way about each other.
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