I’m in the final year of my teaching degree. I’m almost there, and it’s been a long hard struggle. I’ve had to manage my workload, commute to my work placement, work a full day and still get back to pick up the kids. I’ve then got to help the eldest with her homework and put food on the table. As the children have gotten older (they are now three and five), I’m finding that life is getting harder, rather than easier. They have started fighting ALL the time. They can’t seem to get along and argue over the littlest things. I try not to take sides and be fair with each of them, but it doesn’t seem to help. I try to put aside individual special time, but I’m worried that they just don’t get enough of me. I really need to get through these last months of uni. and get a qualification and a good job to support my family. It would make things so much better if they could just get along. I don’t know what to do to make that happen.
Our relationship with our siblings is entirely unique. As children we play with each other more than anyone else. Because our contact is so frequent and our emotional systems so under developed, relationships are often intense. Siblings feel passionate frustration and anger in one minute and love and friendship in the next. There is also apathy and ambivalence in there too. While friends can be chosen and friendships abandoned, our brothers and sisters are a constant. For parents, knowing how to encourage loving relationships between siblings, where personalities don’t easily mesh, can prove an immense challenge and headache. However, there are some things parents can do.
Some parents find a grievance book where complaints about a sibling can be written down means older children feel their frustration relieved from the act of reporting, but don’t have to go to an adult. A diary could also be effective in this way.
Give each child a chance to tell her version of events uninterrupted. Each child’s viewpoint should be acknowledged and responded to with respect.
Differential treatment between siblings is appropriate and unavoidable as we are all individuals, with specific needs that need an appropriate response. However, favouritism and unfavourable comparison is destructive. State the problem and what needs to be done. So, instead of saying “George always hangs his coat up, why can’t you?” – say “Lucy, your coat needs hanging up. Go do it now please.”
When conflict occurs don’t provide attention for poor behaviour. Give your attention to the wounded party as attention functions as a reward and could encourage the unwanted behaviour to be repeated.
Promoting your family as a team, emphasising family similarities, and undertaking fun activities together, have all been shown to be effective in enhancing sibling relationships (Feinberg, Sakuma, Hostetler, & McHale, 2013).
Don’t jump in immediately. If no-one is in physical danger, allow your children to develop the skills of argument resolution. Realistically, in younger children this means many arguments may end in a stand-off where one sibling submits to the desires of the other (McGuire, McHale, & Updegraff, 1996).
When you hear your child being warm and caring to her sibling point it out immediately and praise her for it. Not surprisingly showing warmth and friendship leads to closer relationship between siblings and less time spent in conflict and negative interactions.