It's a familiar scene. You've just come home from work after a long day. You're hungry and tired and it's time to fix dinner, but the kids are at it in the kitchen, fighting over whose turn it is to set the table.
Sibling rivalry is a routine part of growing up in families, but when that fighting turns into constant arguments, fights, and the creation of some potentially dangerous situations, it should be dealt with. Here are some tips to reduce your frustration over quarrelsome siblings and lessen the fighting too.
First, let siblings express their feelings. For example, Linda's two sons, Ben and Adam, have had trouble getting along since they were very young. Playing often ended in grabbing toys, calling each other names, and complaining to Mom. Now as a teen and preteen, Ben and Adam are still fighting over the TV, the bathroom, and the telephone.
Too often parents in this situation try to talk children out of their feelings by saying things like “Stop complaining. He's the only brother you have.” Linda heard that siblings fight less when the parent describes feelings. The next time Adam complained about Ben, Linda said, “Sounds like you're pretty mad at Ben.”
To her amazement, Adam looked puzzled for a minute and then said, “Yeah, I am mad at him.” Then Adam went to another room to play by himself.
It is also natural for parents to notice one child is more cooperative or better behaved than another, but comparing siblings does not encourage better behavior. It only intensifies jealousy and envy. Instead, try to comment only on the disagreeable behavior and avoid telling one child that a sibling is better at something.
In addition, trying to avoid arguments by giving equally to each child only encourages comparisons by children. No matter how hard parents try to make things equal, children are bound to find something that's unfair. Instead, try to give to each according to individual need.
Don't take sides in sibling fights. Instead, try to let children work out differences. Trying to figure out who started a fight is nearly impossible, and even if you are sure who started the fight, taking sides only makes things worse. In addition, the more you stay out of minor fights, the sooner they will learn to settle their differences.
It may sound like fighting will stop magically if only you do the right thing, but realistically it takes time and persistence for you to learn new ways of treating you children and for them to learn new ways of getting along.
Don't give up. It may even seem like it is getting worse before it gets better, but in the long run you will be teaching your children how to get along better. That will prepare them for important relationships in the future.
Virginia K. Molgaard
Family Life Specialist
Iowa State University Extension
Ames, IA 50011