Sibling Fights? We’ve got you covered

Last month, in one of my parenting workshops, a father said, “My kids are having sibling rivalry constantly. I am so tired of being the judge and jury. It has become a regular pattern with my girls that I end up sitting them down and directing every second of the conflict mediation, saying, ‘Okay, now what did you do next? And then what happened? It can take half an hour!” If this sounds familiar, then I believe you could benefit from three major changes in managing sibling rivalry.

1. Don’t Freak Out.

If you get loud, point your finger, or begin lecturing, then you may be rewarding sibling fights with a lot of negative attention. As psychology research confirms, children thrive on attention. Even if the attention is negative attention (ie. yelling or lecturing), children tend to repeat behaviors that get attention. “What gets noticed gets repeated,” says John Sommers-Flannagan. So, strive to be more “boring” in your discipline if you choose to intervene. That means a calm voice, and simple reminders or follow-through with limits that have been pre-decided.

What gets noticed, gets repeated

John Sommers-Flannagan

2. Always approach the situation by putting all children involved “in the same boat.”

Positive Discipline offers this advice, to ensure you aren’t picking favorites and causing children more reasons to have squabbles with one another. When you come over to the dramatic interaction (or it comes to you), it is most effective to say things like, “You guys are having a hard time figuring out how to share the Wii”. “Sounds like you both want to play with the same toy, and haven’t made a plan of how to share.” Then, you can add a statement that direct them to solve the problem:

“I believe you both can come up with a solution. I will be in the kitchen when you are ready”.

If they are not able to come up with a solution together, you can ask if they want some suggestions. More on that in the next tip. And if they can’t agree on a solution, direct them to play with another toy or play separately. Then give them the chance to let you know when they are ready to play together collaboratively.

3. Spend some time as a “conflict coach”.

Children don’t just instinctively know that there are many ways to address a fight or disagreement. Their feelings of anger, sadness and injustice haven’t come with an instruction manual. So, they express being sad/angry by screaming. They grab, scratch or hit when they are frustrated. They insist on getting their way, when they feel injustice. Instead of getting angry at your child for having these responses – recognize it as normal. They are on a long road of social-emotional development, that won’t be complete till around age 25! Spend some time coaching them on how else they can deal with their emotions.  One tool that helps is to make a “wheel of choices” (Positive Discipline). Some of the options include: “Walk away… count to ten… ask the other person to stop, and find another toy.”

They are on a long road of social-emotional development, that won’t be complete till around age 25!

Created by Jane Nelsen & Lynn

Wheel of Choices

Sit down with your children, in a non-conflict moment, and show them the wheel of choices. Be an Emotion coach, and teach them how new ways of dealing with emotions can be more mutually beneficial. For example, “You can then get a turn on the bike without your sister yelling at you.” “You get to continue having fun outside without mom asking you to come inside.” Even better – make your own wheel with ideas that you and your child both agree are great for your family’s values. Kids also love it when parents turn it into a functional wheel, where the kid can “spin it” to decide what tool to use. Check out Pinterest for lots of great ideas to make your own Wheel of Choices.

When you coach children on the different options available to them in resolving conflict and let them come up with which solution to use – children often will amaze you with great solutions!

Download the free Wheel of Choices here

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