Today marks the day the kids go back to school, and I, for one, am quietly happy about it.
Normally, I’m one of those sickly sweet mothers who loves every day of school holidays and the extra time with her kids. We don’t usually do a great deal, cause I don’t believe it’s necessary, but we always enjoy each other’s company.
This holidays though, I’m over it. The constant fighting and bickering and trying to one-up each other from oldest two girls, makes me want to get in my car and drive to Uzbekistan.
If, you know, that was even possible.
Now with four kids, of course these is always some kind of fighting, and negotiations are taking place, but the last two weeks have seen it taken to an entirely new level in my house. I’m actually taking it as a miracle that they haven’t succeeded in killing each other, and should the mother of the year committee stop by, that will be the peg on which I hang my hat.
Thankfully though, because of all the parenting courses we’ve done, when it does come to sibling conflict, I’e got some pretty great tools to draw on, and I thought I’d share them with you.
For starters, there is a major difference between sibling conflict and sibling rivalry. Often we interchange the two words, but it’s important to be clear on what the issue is.
Sibling Conflict is just the natural bickering that comes from learning to live with someone else in your space. It’s an immaturity thing as much as anything else, because it’s born out of selfish desires to always have things one’s own way, and a frustration when someone else thinks differently. Sibling conflict is natural but can be dealt with fairly easily, by encouraging kids to look at things through another person’s eyes, or, as I always say “treat each other as you want to be treated.”
Sibling Rivalry is a lot more dangerous. This is genuine jealousy and disapproval of each other, and can become competitive and nasty very quickly. Sibling rivalry often comes because one child feels as though they are not loved as much or don’t have the same opportunities. It’s harder to deal with, because often it involves us as parents having to look very closely at ourselves and how we may have contributed to the problem.
It’s also an issue that can get buried in the heart of a child, and so may come up again and again, unless we are able to get on top of it.
Our problem these holidays, has been a mix of both. There is some serious competition from the two older girls that is born out of insecurity, and honestly, that’s my fault. I’ve allowed that to happen, and now have to work hard and consistently on making sure that they both understand how dearly loved they both are, whilst also helping them sort through the resulting conflict. Not an easy job I can assure you, and not one that is able to be done by correspondence from Uzbekistan. (Unfortunately 😉 )
Dealing with my own faults and failings in this area is of course my top priority, but in the meantime, I’m also helping the girls to resolve their conflict as much as possible, through the following ways.
- The golden rule. Like I said before, one of my favourite sayings is ‘treat each other as you would like to be treated,’ and often that will be the first thing I ask the kids when they are fighting. This is not going to change them over night, but hopefully, by repeating it constantly, one day this will be the way in which they choose to conduct all their relationships.
- Speak nicely. If it’s not true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind, don’t say it!
- image credit
- “What did you do wrong?” Often a fight is characterised by ‘she did this,’ ‘but she did that!’ and on and on it goes with each child blaming each other. In this case, I send the two parties to their room to calm down, and then I speak with them one on one. I allow them the time to debrief and tell me how they have been wronged, and then ask them the following questions:
“What did you do wrong?”
“What Could you have done?”
“What do you need to do to make it right?” It’s important for them to learn to take responsibility for their own actions.
- Separation. This is so simple, but effective. On days when no one can be nice, I simply separate them all. The older kids are asked to sit on their bed and just lie there, whilst the younger ones I will set up with separate activities in an area where I can supervise. I set the timer and inform them that playing together is a privilege, and if you can’t do it nicely, you will lose that privilege, plain and simple. Usually after half an hour of solitude, they are more than happy to be nice again.
- Forced togetherness. This might sound contrary to the last point, but they work in conjunction. In our home, we have kids sharing rooms, and the way we sort out who is sharing, is by who is not getting along together. This does initially cause more conflict because they are in each others space, both have responsibility for keeping the room clean etc, but it’s actually more beneficial. The increased conflict actually gives them more opportunity to deal with the problem, and forces them to change. They have to work together, or else it’s not going to be enjoyable for either of them.
If sharing rooms is not an option, I will often give joint jobs that require working together, with a joint reward for great cooperation. This works great. In fact the most bicker free morning we had last week was the one the girls were charged to clean out the store-room together
At the end of the day, there is always going to be some form of conflict among siblings. That’s just human nature. But I honestly believe that helping our kids negotiate those conflicts early (and not avoid them) sets them in good stead for all the conflicts that will come in the future.
But in the meantime, I’m so glad school goes back today. 🙂
Is sibling rivalry/conflict an issue in your home?
How do you deal with it?