Quarreling and fighting among siblings is a perennial problem. Every mom of two or more kids faces it. Remember Joseph and his brothers in Genesis? Even Fairy Tales like Cinderella talk about sibling rivalry. We hope to make this an on-going discussion. Why not share your examples, strategies, and resources for other moms facing the dreaded Sibling Rivalry?
I think I’d like to begin with some of the contributing factors.
- When two people (no matter how big or small) share a limited space, they will have disagreements about how that space is to be used.
- When two people (no matter how mature or immature) spend time together, they will disagree about how to spend that time.
- When two people (no matter how generous or selfish) share things, they will both want those things at the same time, sometimes.
- Differences in ages, personality, and interests.
- Add in a little jealousy about who is getting the attention I want and you have the makings of the perfect storm.
A few very simple rules that everyone knows and that are always in force can be a help in solving some fights.
- No one physically hurts another person to get their way. Use your words!
- If the object in contention is common property, whoever had it first gets to use it now. (Generally kids don’t have a long enough attention span to keep playing with one thing for too long. When they lay it down, it is fair game for the others.)
- No one takes anything that belongs to another without asking permission.
Now, some strategies for mom:
- Whenever possible, don’t get involved. If you intervene too often, children will expect your help every time they have a conflict. When you do have to step in, try to resolve the fightwith your kids not for your kids.
- Many fights are more to attract mom’s attention and not for any other real purpose. You might try a time-out for both when a fight fight breaks out. Then take a little time with each one when they are quiet.
- If one has been hurt, separate the children, and comfort the hurt one first. Next remind the one who hurt someone else about the rule. Stress words they may use that will prevent fights in the future.
- If you can’t figure out who got the toy first and it is common property, take it away from both of them. Remind them that when they share, toys don’t get put away for a day.
- If someone took something that belongs to another, they are wrong, no matter what.
Having said all that, there are lots of times you cannot sort it out and you will discipline the wrong kid or you will just reach the end of your rope and yell. But keep in mind, the importance of being a role model for your kids. Try to demonstrate, as well as teach, better ways to get along.
Dr. Leman suggests putting the two culprits in a room alone and letting them find a way to solve the problem themselves. That can work if they are both able to talk. In other words, I wouldn’t try this method if one is very verbal and the other is just learning to talk. I also wouldn’t try this if you think it will deteriorate into physical violence.
One strategy that I have seen work well is called Marble Madness. For this, you need a glass jar and a bunch of marbles. Use a marker and make a line not too far from the bottom of the jar and another one farther up. Explain to all the kids what the goal and rules of the game are.
- A marble will be added to the jar for each child who shows the desired behavior. In this case, not fighting. (You can use the same technique to eliminate lots of other bad behaviors and even different behaviors for each child. But for now, keep it simple.)
- When they accumulate enough marbles to reach the first line on the jar, you will give them a favorite treat. (Don’t make it too expensive or time-consuming. An ice cream cone, an hour at the play ground, an extra story at bed time, or a trip to the $1 store with a $1 to choose whatever they want are some ideas.)
- Make a big deal of adding marbles. When a fight could have started, but someone gave way–that calls for a marble or maybe even two. When one who usually screams doesn’t–that calls for a marble. When one negotiates with the other and so there is no argument–that calls for at least one marble for each kid and maybe even two.
- Try to reach the first line in a day or two at the most. You may make it take longer to reach the second line.
- NEVER take a marble out. Use some other form of discipline for bad behavior. This is for rewards and should always be a treat.
You might try these ideas. I’d love to know if any of them work or which ones work or if you found something else that worked.
Here is the first resource from Parents.com, Sibling Rivalry Strategies
Some more helpful hints for parents at: Child Development Institute
Managing Sibling Rivalry, especially for older children: Baby Center