Note: This post was first published on November 20, 2019, but has been updated.
Your kids are squabbling. AGAIN!
You’re frustrated, overwhelmed and desperate.
The thought of leaving home yourself or selling your kids on E-Bay has crossed your mind.
(Did you know that in 1915 U.S. parents could mail their kids via the postal service? They put the stamps on the kid’s clothes and the mailman delivered them!)
But seriously, sibling rivalry is exhausting!
You really want your kids to have a warm close relationship that they will carry with them into their adult years, but how do you get that?
Frankly, you’d just like the fighting to stop now so you can think straight, never mind the wonderful, warm relationship.
Let’s look at ways you can combat the rivalry and help your kids get along better (and preserve your sanity).
If you have more than one child sibling rivalry is guaranteed.
You can’t escape it. Christian home or not.
I think I made the mistake of trying to stop absolutely all conflict – because that’s not Christian, right?
In reality, Christians do have conflict.
Kids can learn important life skills from conflict with each other:
Change your thinking from “We must not have any conflict” to “We will manage our conflict”.
When should you get involved? I often did get involved in my kids’ conflicts, fix the problem, and then a few minutes later they were back to what they were doing before, but happy doing it.
So when do you step in?
Here’s a principle – not always, not never.
Sometimes it’s good to step in and end it, and other times it’s good to leave your kids to sort it out themselves.
Learn to discern when mild disagreement or half-playful conflict transitions to something more serious.
It’ll take trial and error, and prayer for wisdom and discernment.
Having clear rules will help you know when to step in and mediate. Here are some ideas:
Tattling gets someone into trouble, telling gets someone out of trouble.
A child telling his mother that his sister just put her muddy shoes on the carpet is tattling. Telling his mother that his sister is standing on the edge of the couch and about to fall off, is telling.
When a sibling is in danger, it is good to tell!
If you have a serial tattler, give him or her a consequence every time he or she tattles.
If your rules are not obeyed, then give consequences.
If children don’t profit from fighting and quarreling, they will choose another course. For example,
When one child says, “Mom, Matt took my ball,” say, “Oh, he took your ball? That must make you feel upset.” Having their feelings understood and validated will go a long way to ending conflict.
Often the reason your child comes to you is because they need someone with more authority to come through for them. Having their feelings understood may be all they need.
One caution: be careful not to indulge your children’s hurt feelings and teach them to run to you over every small upset.
As they get older, teach your kids how to resolve conflict between themselves, without your mediation.
Guide them through this process so they learn how to resolve their conflicts themselves. Make a list and post it where they can refer to it.
Resolving conflict only happens when both parties are calm. Give your kids a set amount of time to let their emotions simmer down.
Physical activity helps to get rid of strong emotions – send your kids for a run, get them to do push-ups, ride their bike for 5 minutes, or do a few chores.
Once they have calmed down, come back to the conflict and work to resolve it (if it hasn’t fizzled out already).
If you have one child who always gets dominated due to age or personality, teach him or her to start being more assertive, and encourage your bossy child to consider their sibling’s ideas or wishes.
The root of all rivalry is selfishness. Your children need God to change their selfish desires.
Sometimes all it takes is a simple prayer, putting your children’s hearts and minds into God’s control, to resolve conflict and save you hours of wrangling.
Praying for a change of heart gets to the root of most conflicts. Don’t just deal with the behaviour, look for heart change.
I found that if I left my kids for longer than an hour without directing them, the arguments and selfishness increased.
After an hour of play, get your kids to do a few chores, read a story, or have some alone playtime.
Try and see the lighter side of life. Make a joke, pretend to be a policeman and “arrest” your children for fighting, or burst into a silly or happy song instead of scowling and scolding. This may be all that’s needed to lighten the atmosphere and dissolve an argument.
Encourage your children to tell you what they are feeling – anger, frustration, sadness? Help them by asking, “Are you feeling angry?” (or sad, or impatient).
Once they have identified their emotion help them process it. Acknowledge the feeling and that it is real and then help them surrender the frustration or hurt to God so that He can put His feelings into their heart (Ezekiel 36:26,27).
Teach your kids to take ownership of their own feelings without blaming their sibling for their frustration or anger.
Teach your children to appreciate each other. Help them see three good things about their brother or sister every day, and voice them out loud.
Get your children to serve each other by doing one kind thing for their brother or sister each day – in secret. If you have more than two kids this works great because they will be guessing who did it. Even with two kids this will be fun.
Give lots of positive encouragement when your kids play well together, or when they are thoughtful and kind.
Give rewards for good behaviour: “You played together so well while I took a nap, let’s read a story.”
Related: 14 Tips for Becoming a Better Parent
If you are a contentious parent, or continually fighting with your spouse, you can’t expect your children not to fight and argue.
More is caught than taught.
You cannot force your children to be friends, this will come in time, when they are ready, and through their own wishes. However, you can, and should, expect them to treat each other with respect.
Dealing with sibling rivalry can be messy and you are not going to get it right all the time. That’s OK.
Keep your focus on the condition of their hearts (out of it are the issues of life) and they will learn to get along.
What do you do to manage the sibling rivalry in your home?