It’s Saturday morning and the house erupts with shouts of “Give that back! It isn’t yours” and the next thing I know, there is a massive chase around the dining table akin to a scene out of a Fast and Furious movie. The elder one in the lead, holding a carefully crafted Lego robot as high up as he can, while simultaneously pulling out chairs from behind him to stop the younger one’s progress. The chase now leads to the rest of the house and I find myself involved as I desperately swoop in to save my precious European souvenir from being knocked over. The whole escapade ends with me shouting, the older one sulking and the younger one in a flood of tears. If this scene seems remotely familiar, you have either grown up with siblings or are a parent of siblings.
Even the best sibling relationships have their fair share of ups and downs. The fact is, unlike friends, siblings don’t get to choose each other. They happen to be born or brought up in the same family. Their interests and personalities may not be similar. They may be of different ages and genders. And, yet, their sibling is the person that they spend the maximum amount of time with, in their childhood. And both of them want the same thing — the complete and undivided attention of their parents. This manifests itself in their bickering and squabbling over non-issues and, in some cases, getting into physical fights with one or both getting hurt in the process.
While sibling squabbles are perfectly normal and part of the growing up process, we still need to put some measures in place to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.
Each child is different. They react differently to situations and need to be dealt with differently. One child may do what he is told immediately, but the other needs to be told 10 times before he completes his task. While one child may leap out of bed as soon as the alarm rings, another may not budge until a bucket of water has been poured over his head. Resentment is bound to creep in if you keep comparing one to the other. Acknowledge that each one is different. If a child needs more time to wake up in the morning, maybe start waking him up 5 minutes earlier than his sibling. Encourage their individual interests and celebrate their achievements. Allow them an opportunity to make their own mark in their own area of interest. Having separate interests will reduce the scope for comparison.
Set rules for the family
We have a “Stop it! I don’t like it” rule in the family. The minute anyone says it, the other person must immediately stop whatever they were doing that is annoying to the first person. It’s very easy for a fun wrestling match to turn into a not so fun pummelling session. This rule empowers them and allows them to solve minor squabbles without parental involvement.
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Set a rotational system
Set this in place for “whose turn is it” types of fights. This simple strategy effectively ends all fights, like whose turn is it to sit in the window seat or choose a movie for movie night.
Provide them with coping strategies
Teach them to ignore the teasing and the taunts. If that doesn’t work, maybe they can tell the teaser that it’s Opposite Day, so whatever the teaser says, it means the opposite. If he’s being unkind, he actually means to say kind things. If things still escalate, they can ask an adult to step in.
Don’t succumb to the ‘It’s not fair’ cry
Fairness has nothing to do with it. An older child can stay up later because he needs less sleep than the younger one. Certain movies are more appropriate for an older age group than they are for a younger age group. The older child will appreciate the benefits of being older. And when the younger child finally gets to that age, he will feel privileged. As a parent, it is hard to constantly give each child your equal and undivided attention. There will be times when one child will get more attention from you.
If a child is sick, it is only natural that your attention will be diverted to him. Don’t feel guilty about it. In the long run, as long as you are able to balance your time with equal doses of individual one-on-one time and time spent together as a family, they will realise the intrinsic fairness of it all.
Teach them that it’s okay to be angry
Even we as adults often get angry. Anger is a normal emotion. What’s not okay is how they demonstrate the anger. It is not okay to hit their younger brother because he’s playing with their toys. Talk about what is making them angry and come up with solutions for it. If the older child doesn’t want the younger child messing about with his toys, take some time and divide his toys into ones that he is willing to share with his younger sibling and the ones that are absolutely off limits. Involve him in the decision-making process and ensure that the younger one follows it as well. If squabbles escalate and the disagreements continue, set up a rule of a 15-minute time away from each other until they calm down enough to discuss it rationally and work towards a solution.
Reward appropriate behaviour
While we are quick to punish a child for inappropriate behaviour, we rarely recognise when he is being kind and considerate towards his sibling. By positively acknowledging appropriate behaviour, it gets reinforced in the child’s mind. Link family outings and special treats to their behaviour towards one another during the week.
While the above strategies may not completely eradicate all sibling squabbles, they will go a long way towards ensuring more peaceful weekends and your prized souvenirs will need less protection from the colliding sibling forces of nature.