Our relationship with our siblings is unique. As children, we play more with our brothers and sisters than anyone else. This constant closeness, paired with an immature emotional regulation system, mean siblings both intensely love and hate each other, often within the same five minutes!
Of course, the day to day is most usually less dramatic, with ambivalence, relaxed friendship, and low level irritation, annoyance and anger characterising many sibling interactions. It’s these last emotions that parents can find difficult to deal with. This is particularly the case over the summer holidays, when bickering is
often at its peak. While there’s no magic cure, and managing disagreements is part and parcel of growing up, research suggests a few things, which may help to increase the peace.
Get it written down.
Trying making a “grievance book” where each child can write down things the other child has done which have been upsetting. This can allow small gripes to be vented without always having to come to an adult. From
your child’s perspective, the issue can often feel resolved just by getting it down on paper.
Leave other siblings out of it.
When one child is acting out, avoid comparing behaviour, which can increase resentment and antagonism. So, rather than – ‘George always hangs his coat up neatly, why can’t you?’ -describe the problem and explain what needs to be done – ‘Your coat is on the floor and it should be hung up.’
Don’t give attention to unwanted behaviour.
When one child is misbehaving, avoid rewarding and reinforcing the misbehaviour by giving it your attention. If your littlest child has hit your eldest, lavish your attention on the child that has been hurt, giving kisses and cuddles or an ice pack as appropriate.
Create shared goals.
Suggest games where siblings can work together as a team and benefit from a shared outcome. For example, encourage each child to bring his/her Lego together to create a Lego fantasy world, in which everyone can play.
Discourage direct comparisons.
A family environment where siblings constantly compare everything, and demand it to be equal, will be ripe for bickering. Instead, encourage natural differences. For example, when providing food for dinner ask, ‘How hungry are you? Would you like a lot or a little?’
From chartered psychologist Dr Sarah Kuppen
Author of Little Kids, Big Dilemmas: Your parenting problems solved by science
Parenting blog: www.littledilemmas.com
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