Every parent dreams of their kids being best friends with each other. But it’s likely your household is more family feud than kumbaya. If you’re tired of hearing the constant rotation of “he’s looking at me,” “she’s copying me,” and “they’re breathing on me,” read on. These 10 tips will help you navigate the war and bring peace (mostly) back to your household.
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1. Let the older sibling help take care of their younger one. A recent study shows that kids with younger siblings have more empathy, and a little bit of responsibility—holding a bottle or picking out pj’s—can strengthen the bond between siblings. Bonus: You get a mini-break.
2. Give them space to settle their spats. Sure, tots and preschoolers may still need you to ref their arguments, but older kids are almost always capable of working out their differences on their own.
3. Know when to break things up. When fists start to form, you hear growling or see steam coming out of their ears, it’s obviously time for you to step in. Nine times out of 10, one or both of the kids are too emotional, tired or hangry to sensibly solve a disagreement on their own.
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4. Sing each kid’s praises to the other.Talk up one sibling to the other. Saying things like “You have the most helpful brother in the world,” or “Isn’t your sister the funniest?!” will bolster your kids’ positive feelings towards each other. Warning: We’re raving about what makes one child special, not comparing the two. It’s a fine line, but when you get it right the results will amaze you.
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5. Put them to the task … together. That feeling you get at work when you successfully work as a team to complete a project? Kids can get the same feel-good vibes when working on a chore together, like feeding the family pet or washing and drying dishes.
6. Spend one-on-one time with each kid. Whether it’s going for a walk or out for lunch, taking time to hang with one sibling without the other(s) goes a long way in squashing rivalry.
7. For every “put-down” make them say three “put-ups.” The next time you catch sibling A saying something unkind to sibling B (i.e. “Ewww! You stink!”), make Sibling A say three nice things about Sibling B (i.e. “You’re very smart.” “I like your smile.” “You’re good at sharing.”).
8. Reinforce the positive. According to psychologist and child development expert Amber Ankowski, when you catch your kids getting along, it’s important to let them know how much you love it. Sure, it might happen once in a blue moon, but when you do see them share, care, or cooperate, tell them you appreciate the efforts. Your cosign means they’re likely to repeat the act more than once in a blue moon.
9. Take away the fire starter. If they’re fighting over an object—a toy, video game, the last granola bar—the easiest thing to do might just be to take it away. Period. Explain that now there’s nothing to argue over so they should try to get along. It’s a good lesson that can be applied later in life—fighting gets you nowhere, and leaves you with nothing.
photo: Dale C via Flickr
10. Know that not all rivalry is a bad rivalry. Regularly playing competitive but friendly games with each other, like Scrabble or soccer, helps kids learn to win and lose gracefully.