What to Do When Sibling Rivalry Is Driving You Crazy

Just when we thought we couldn’t handle all the fighting on evenings and weekends, life gave us Coronavirus and poof, we’re suddenly captains of the all-day, everyday sibling rivalry ship! Excuse me, when did we sign up for this? Raising kids who constantly bicker, hit, and tattle is no easy feat. Add the stress and pressure of the Pandemic and you’re likely about to explode with each new conflict.

If you wonder if your kids are ever going to get along or become friends, you’re not alone. It can be incredibly heart-wrenching to watch the effects of sibling rivalry play out in your family. We often experience our longest relationships with our brothers and sisters. From birth they help us to learn how to deal with conflict and present us with natural competition that allows for personal growth. Ideally, we set our children up to have long-lasting love and support with each other. But the reality is that many siblings end up distancing themselves from each other over time or they completely end the relationship. Some of our deepest wounds can come from a sibling’s punch, literally and figuratively. Sibling rivalry can be massively destructive and aggravating for all parties involved. Thankfully, we can learn strategies to help you keep the peace while your children are young.

To resolve the issue, it’s best to look at 3 contributing factors in why your kids are fighting.

  1. Your Reaction
    Is your instinct to get your fur ruffled up like a terrified cat when your kids are fighting? Your reaction to the conflict may be making things worse. In the heat of the moment, you have the power to stabilize the fight or ramp it up. This is not the time to scold or instruct. It’s not the right time to teach a lesson. We need to take a step back and allow ourselves to effectively get into prefrontal cortex (PFC) mode—where the brain makes rational decisions and moderates social behaviours. If we rush in, there’s one more kid in the room (us) who is also operating with our reactionary lizard brain. No wonder things escalate! Be gentle on yourself when you see your kids fighting; the harder you are on yourself, the more intractable the problem gets. Your mindset matters. Believe that the problem is solvable and it will help you find the solution, and you will solve it in less time.

Actionable tips:

● BREATHE while counting backwards and/or talking in a calm voice to them, while WALKING to them. This is even if they are hitting each other. Your calm presence will not only de-escalate things in the moment, it will help you start to rewire your brain to achieve calm, which will benefit you in the long run.
● Get BETWEEN your kids if they are hitting, while modeling breathing and calming yourself down.

Remember, you’re going to make mistakes sometimes. Change is a process. The key is to soften our hearts. (I encourage you to watch my FB Live on how to soften our hearts and the hearts of our kids. You can find it HERE.)

2. Lack of a healthy hierarchy between you and your children
Despite wanting to raise our kids to be democratic citizens, we don’t have to be democratic in the way we parent. We tend to treat our kids as equals, instead of recognizing the natural hierarchy that comes with age differences. But it makes so much more sense from an evolutionary and developmental standpoint to expect older kids to be more responsible. This instils a sense of duty to care for the younger, less strong and able-bodied individuals. One of the most memorable examples of this is the box car children in 1940s Germany. Children with no biological ties were found living together in box cars. The older children naturally took the lead, and were doing things like choosing to eat less, in order to try to ensure the survival of the younger children! It’s been done this way for centuries. It’s sad that nowadays our older kids are not often given the chance to take responsibility caring for their siblings. Modern parents feel like parenting is their job and do not want to “burden” their older children with caretaker tasks. But then we have the to complain that kids these days lack responsibility and maturity. We must dispel this damaging parenting belief. It’s helpful for everyone, greater society and older children included, to help out the little ones. This has been the parenting secret for centuries! There are steps we can take as parents to restore the natural hierarchy and grow the bond between your kids.

Actionable steps: 

  • Help your older child to feel responsible for being an older role model. Your older child will benefit greatly from this, as will your younger child. 
  • Ask your older child to look out for your younger child while you carry on a simple task in your home
  • Recommend your older child help out your younger child with a task, such as homework or chores.

If you’d like to explore this concept more deeply, I recommend you check out this post on Sibling Rivalry  – what science has to tell us about why it’s on the rise, and how to turn it around.  I go more into the science behind why the hierarchy is so important, as well as teach you how to set your kids up in the right relationship.

You may also wish to watch or listen to this FB Live from a few years ago on Sibling Rivaly, where I go more depth into this powerful concept. (If you aren’t on Facebook/prefer not to go there, you can watch my Sibling Rivalry talk here.)

3. Lagging skills
Childhood clinical psychologist Dr. Ross Greene writes “Kids with behavioral challenges are not attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, coercive or unmotivated. But they do lack the skills to behave appropriately.” Sometimes fights between siblings can crop up when one or both children lack the skills to deal with conflicts. Perhaps a child is having trouble sharing, expressing their needs, or keeping their hands to themselves. Kids do well if they have the tools to handle certain situations, just like parents. You and/or your children may need to learn the necessary skills to master daily life. There is no shame in this—we are all learning! Understand that your child is needing guidance and support, not discipline. The best thing we can do, so that we can teach the necessary skills to master the situation. 

Actionable steps:

  • When the conflict has passed and everyone is calm, involve your kids in resolving the problem. I highly recommend you follow Dr. Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions method.
  • Teach your kids that the sibling with the toy gets to finish playing with it. Set a timer, or help the child who wants the toy to find something else to do while they wait.

Remember, change is a process for adults and kids alike. Chances are your kids have been fighting for some time. Durable change rarely happens overnight. But trust me, you can and will solve this problem! Get curious about what is going on with your kids, as well as yourself, and you will solve the problem more quickly! Great Parenting can be simplified!

What did you find most helpful? I’d love to hear your comment below, as well as your questions. It is not only possible, but important to get your kids to stop the endless fighting. I am honored to support you on your journey!

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