Stopping the Sibling Squabbling

I’ve been binge-watching “Downton Abbey.” I’ve almost finished Season 5 and will then have to be patient until the final season is available on Netflix. “Really,” I tell my husband, “it’s not an addiction. I can stop any time!” (Just one more episode!) I’ve fallen in love with this family and their story, except for one thing. Mary, the oldest, frequently insults her sister, Edith. Her cutting remarks are obviously hurtful, and yet Edith never stands up for herself, nor do the parents make any effort to stop this blatant bullying.

Sibling rivalry is normal. Kids are going to bicker from time to time and different personalities are going to rub each other the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean parents should let unkind, disrespectful behavior go unchecked. Our kids don’t have to be best friends, but they should learn to be respectful to each other and resolve their issues peacefully. Here are some tips for managing those tough moments when your kids and their squabbles are driving you crazy.

  1. Divide and conquer! Find a chore for each child to do, to separate them for a few minutes and give them time to cool down. Do this enough times, and they may discover the connection between arguing and chores, and find a strategy for getting along, just to avoid the extra work!
  1. Don’t take sides! Use the power of problem solving. Guide them in a conflict resolution discussion that results in a plan that is respectful to both children, post the plan in a public place, and remind them of their agreement next time the problem comes up.

When they’re old enough and have experienced the problem solving process several times, hand them a piece of paper and a pencil and say, “I know you can figure out a way to solve this problem. Please create a plan and share it with me by suppertime.”

  1. Teach your children to use “bugs and wishes.” When one child makes insulting comments toward another, call her on it. “We don’t speak that way to each other in this family. Please apologize, and then instead of name calling, tell your sister what she did that made you angry.” Help her express her feelings using an “I” statement. This might sound like, “It bugs me when you ___ and I wish you would ___.” (If this erupts into an argument, see number 2 above.)
  1. Establish guidelines for respecting each other’s space and property. For example, no one goes in another person’s room or takes someone else’s belongings without first getting permission.

Childhood conflicts may work themselves out and your kids may grow into adults who love and support each other. On the other hand, they might be the source of ongoing resentment and discord, which puts stress and tension on your whole family well into adulthood.  Teaching your children the skills of managing conflicts respectfully now, can have a long-term positive impact on your family environment.