Where are most tensions in the household? Between siblings, of course! Brothers and sisters share parents, family, love, jealousy, resentment, admiration, and, a lot of times, a bedroom. You can help keep tensions to a minimum.
- Keep your kids safe from each other, and teach them how and where to put their angry feelings. (“Use your words, not your fists!”)
- Acknowledge their difficult and ambivalent feelings about each other.
- Treat your children equitably (remember that equitable and equal are not the same). Refrain from comparing them. Focus on giving each what he needs.
Worried about rivalry? Don't make it worse! Your attitudes are catching—your children internalize what you think of them. Don't make value statements about your kids. (“Jane's the smart one, but Amanda is going to be a little heartbreaker!”)
- Don't let anybody label any of your children.
- Try not to make one sibling responsible for the other.
- Allow them to solve their own disagreements and battles.
- Focus on each child's abilities, not failings or disabilities.
- Make siblings share family time activities, and one-on-one time. They need shared experiences to build their relationship, and to have a testing ground to learn conflict resolution. Maybe a special class together? Yes, they'll act resistant, but try anyhow.
Let the kids resolve it on their own. Of course, at times, you may need to facilitate. Here are the guidelines for when to step in, and, if you do step in, what to do. They're based on ideas from Siblings Without Rivalry, a helpful guide by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Condition Green—Your kids are bickering, squabbling, mildly arguing, and bugging each other. So what else is new? They need to learn how to live with each other (and others) and how to resolve conflicts. If you interfere with bickering, you exacerbate it, you encourage it, and you probably raise your own blood pressure as well. Hum a tune, go for a walk, think of it as low-level background music. You are not involved.
Condition Yellow—It's not a bicker, it's a real argument. Time to wake up and smell the coffee.
- “Boy, you guys are pretty angry at each other, huh?” Saying this acknowledges their emotions.
- Translate. “Paulette, you are angry because you were in the chair first and when you came back from the bathroom, Brian was there. Brian, you are angry at Paulette because she always `calls' the chair, and, you feel that if she got out of it to go to the bathroom, it was empty and therefore up for grabs.”
- Don't denigrate the problems or the emotions. “It can be really hard when two people want the same thing.”
- “I know you'll come up with a good solution,” you say, showing your confidence in their ability to solve the problem.
- Then leave.
Condition Red—They are really going at it. You need to determine if they are play-fighting by mutual consent. You may have family rules about use of language, use of physical force, or use of violent play (like guns)—if so, remind the kids of the rules, and go away.
Condition Blue—Okay, they are really fighting now!
- Stop the fight. Keep in mind your ultimate goal, to teach your kids to mediate their own disputes.
- Separate the kids, and give them a cooldown period (this may need to be enforced through time-outs). Cooling down is not a punishment, and it should be applied and enforced equally.
- You are not a contender, you aren't even a mediator (yet). Don't take sides. Take yourself out of the fray. You are not on either child's “side.”
- After cooling down, bring them together and encourage them to resolve the issue themselves.
- If they are unsuccessful, you or your partner should step in as mediator, and help them with the problem-solving process or the fair fight technique (both above).