The first step is for parents to recognize that bad mood, boredom, lack of parental supervision, perceptions of favoritism, access to shared resources (e.g., Wii, iPad, TV, front passenger seat), and protection of personal belongings or parental attention are some common causes of sibling conflict. Name calling, teasing or physical aggression (e.g., pinching, kicking, pushing, punching, wrestling and biting for youngest children) can follow once arguments begin. To reduce negative sibling interactions, try the following:
Children like predictability. Involve your children in creating a schedule for coveted resources either allowing all siblings daily access by time slots or alternate odd and even dates. Once complete, post the schedule in a family common area. Color or shape coding will help youngest siblings follow the schedule too.
Many parents adopt a “let them sort it out themselves” approach to sibling squabbles. Instead, parents can use negative interactions as an opportunity to teach prosocial conflict resolution skills. Prosocial skills are behaviors that lead to positive outcomes in social settings such as expressing feelings, listening, perspective taking and compromise. Children will learn from parents who model these more mature conflict resolution behaviors and begin to use them independently, thereby reducing future sibling conflict.
The experiences of working toward a common goal and having fun together are important factors in strengthening the sense of connection essential to supportive sibling relationships. Parents vs. children water balloon fights, games of hide and seek, basketball in the driveway, or siblings working together to wash the car or make breakfast for parent(s) are examples of cooperative and fun relationship building activities that may help strengthen sibling unity.
Brothers and sisters often forget to use the same social manners they practice with friends in interactions with their siblings. Parents and children may together create a family mission of respect. Parents modeling and reinforcing behaviors such as saying “please” and “thank you,” asking before using another’s belongings, and respecting personal space and privacy (e.g., by knocking before entering) will communicate mutual respect among siblings and decrease squabbles.
By implementing these strategies over time, many parents will see fewer squabbles and more supportive sibling interactions characterized by respect, cooperation and fun!
By // Erin Lanphier, Ph.D.