Those of us who grew up with siblings already know that there will inevitably come a time when we will not get along with one or more of them. (Perhaps this is why some people think being an only child has more benefits!)
However, even if conflict is part of every relationship, there are certain things we can do to make sure they are minimal at best. Here are a few ways we parents can help our children grow up as friends:
1. Show and teach them empathy.
When our children exhibit feelings of frustration, we should let them know that we understand them. This helps validate what they feel. Encourage them to use words to express their feelings instead of fighting with each other
E.g. When kids don’t want to share with each other: “I am upset because you don’t want to share your toy with me. Can we please try sharing with each other?”
In every conflict, try not to jump to conclusions and immediately “punish” the “culprit,” i.e. the child who started the fight. Instead, practice active listening by encouraging your children to open up. You can use phrases like, “Would you like to tell me what happened?” and “So how did that make you feel?”
When our children feel that they can open up to us about their feelings, even the “bad” ones, they may end up relating more peacefully and harmoniously with each other because they know that we, their parents, will acknowledge them and listen to them when they need us to.
2. Strive to avoid comparisons.
If you compare them constantly (“Why can’t you be more like your Kuya?” or “Buti pa si________, she’s more obedient than you!” etc.), more likely than not, they will end up feeling jealous of each other. Children may also gain a poor self-image of themselves. Such negative feelings can lead to bickering, hostility and disunity — instead of them feeling that they’re “in this together,” they will feel that they’re “out to get each other.”
What we can do instead is tell each of our kids about their respective strengths and weaknesses. Remember to do this one by one, perhaps during one of your regular “dates” with each child, or during your usual bonding time.
3. Make sure that your kids are familiar with your rules.
And, try your best to keep them, too. Consistently remind them that yelling, teasing, hitting and other forms of physical “fighting” are unacceptable. It may help to write down or print out house rules and post them in different parts of the house. (if you have a child who is a non-reader, use symbols or pictures they can associate with each rule.)
Don’t forget to teach your kids, too, that these rules also apply to other children, e.g. those they meet at the local playground, in school, at playdates, etc.
4. When your kids don’t play nicely, separate them.
Ms. Maribel Dionisio, MA, a parenting and relationship expert and co-founder of the Love Institute, during her talk on bullying at the recently held Family Congress, told participants that when her children used to fight with each other, she would put them in different rooms until they decide to be nice to each other.
Kids usually would not want to lose a playmate, but if they do continue to squabble, follow through with your “threat” and separate them as needed. Tell them to think about their actions while they are away from each other.
5. Teach them to respect each other’s property.
When the reason for sibling squabbles is toys or things, it may be best to, first and foremost, teach them respect for property. If your kids share a room, designate certain “individual” spaces for each child and then a “common” space. Allow each child to decorate their respective spaces and store their own items there.
If a sibling wants to borrow or use a certain item, he or she should ask permission first. Items or things placed in the “common” space are “free for all,” meaning any sibling can use them as they please, even without asking for permission.
Remember, too, that respect begins at home. Teach your kids to respect others by first practicing respect with their siblings.
6. Encourage your children to take turns.
This can be done while playing and even in other things, like choosing what TV show or DVD to watch, or what dessert you will serve after dinner. Learning to take turns can help “diffuse” conflicts even before they start. Remind them that to “give and take” is a good attitude to adopt — one that will be of benefit to them even when they are grown up.
7. In the case of the birth of a new sibling…
Help avoid the stirring of resentment among older siblings by preparing them for the arrival of their new brother or sister. Talk to the older kids about your new baby, show them the baby’s ultrasound pictures and read children’s books about siblings and preparing for a new baby. Most of all, remind your older kids that each of them (your kids) is unique and special and dearly loved, no matter what happens.
8. Do not feel that you have to step in EVERY TIME your children fight.
Sometimes, kids need to resolve their conflicts on their own, especially when they are arguing over something petty. Let them be but be prepared to intervene if the fight or argument is getting out of hand or is becoming violent.
9. Set a good example.
We parents are our kids’ first and best teachers and role models. When we squabble over petty things (especially with our spouses) or resolve conflict in “unhealthy” ways, our children will most likely pick up this behavior, too.
When siblings fight, we should also remember not to take sides, but to treat each child fairly and listen to each child openly. We must also do our best to live by the Golden Rule, and encourage and teach our kids to do the same.
Last, but definitely not the least, we must foster an environment of peace, love and unity within the home (yes, even if we find ourselves separated from our spouses). After all, at the end of the day, our family may be the only stable thing that keeps us “sane” in this crazy world. In the wise words of Lilo and Stitch, those quirky characters from the 2002 Disney animated movie Lilo and Stitch:
"This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good." — Stitch
"Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten." — Lilo
Photo by hepingting from flickr creative commons