No parent wants to be accused of favouring one child over another when they are resolving their kids’ quarrels. Still, freelance researcher Ratna Damayanti, mum to Eisya, 9 months, Adam, 6 and Eve, 8, points out, “It is hard to be 100 per cent fair 100 per cent of the time.”
Remember, siblings bicker, that’s what they do. However, constant arguments, if not settled amicably, can sometimes lead to rivalry. Adds Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, “Usually, if the child is independent, he might decide to run away when it gets unbearable at home, since to stay is meaningless and loveless. The kid might then grow to become angry, untrusting, lonely and depressed.”
Such negative feelings can balloon into bigger issues in adulthood ― low self-esteem, an unwillingness to love, anxiety about being alone ― which leads to an inability to build a positive relationship. Worse, your child might end up being in a dysfunctional relationship and get used by others while seeking acceptance (yikes!).
SmartParents gets advice from Koh and Vicky Ho, head of research and development at Focus on the Family on how to settle disputes between squabbling siblings.
1) Don’t ask “who did it?”
Resolving the fight shouldn’t be about assigning blame. Ho urges parents to refrain from a lengthy discussion over “who started it”. If you fear that their quarrel might get physical, give the kids space and time to cool down before sitting them down for the talk. Explain your concerns about the constant bickering, then put in place new rules AND consequences. Once everyone agrees on the details, write these out clearly and display them in a visible spot ― a refrigerator or a wall in the living room. This way, your kiddos know what’s acceptable and what’s not (forgetting is no longer an excuse).
Our children’s relationship with each other is affected by you and your husband’s different parenting styles.
2) Get to the root of the matter
Is one of the siblings competing for your attention? Ho notes that children think the same way ― they want answers to basic questions like: “Who cares about me?” and “Does what I think or do matter?” Parents should try to organise regular one-on-one “dates” with each child to ensure that he or she gets your undivided attention. Stick to simple activities ― a visit to the playground or getting ice cream ― will reassure junior that you love and care for him.
3) Present a united front
Sometimes, your children’s relationship with each other is affected by you and your husband’s different parenting styles. So, it’s important to discuss your common goals with the children. Since children model their parents’ behaviour, any double standards when dealing with your children may have adverse effects on their ability to bond. Ho also advises that parents check how they speak to and behave with each other. Remember ― unity is power. If your little one realises that he can turn one parent against the other, he will.
Don’t waste your time just tackling tiffs, read on to find out how to get your kids to gel well together…
4) Use words that promote harmony
Use words that encourage togetherness when you speak to your tykes. Koh recommends that parents “say things like you both need to take care of each other and value one another.” To avoid showing bias, don’t praise one child over the other. Instead, commend them on spending time together, sharing their stuff, or just being there to support each other.
5) Teach your kids how to resolve their issues
Damayanti now refrains from intervening when her kids fight. Ho echoes her sentiments, adding, “Give your children the opportunity to learn conflict-management skills. If you overhear arguing, step close enough, so that they know you’re listening. Say that you will give them a few more minutes to work it out on their own. Step in ONLY when they don’t seem to be making any progress or are getting physical.”
She has also taught her kids the tools to negotiate in school and at home ― such as how to take turns, find a solution and be fair. Agreeing, Ho notes that it is crucial to teach your little ones to steer clear of using mean or insulting words when they sort out issues. “Explain to your kids that words are extremely powerful and mean comments can damage and hurt deeply.”
Forging stronger ties between your kids is your best bet against recurring rows between them. A good way to foster nurturing bonds is to encourage the elder child to help his younger sibling with a task he’s struggling, such as helping the younger one to put on shoes. And remember to offer praise as encouragement and even reward such actions.
“There’s no need for elaborate activities to foster nurturing bonds ― engaging conversations and rewarding them with positive affirmations can help too!”
Koh suggests that parents can even take it a step further ― get your kids to take turns teaching each other a new skill. When they do an art-and-craft project or cook together (under your watchful eyes, of course) in a stress-free environment, they will enjoy each other’s company, see each other as equals, as well as experience unconditional love for each other.
You should also encourage your kids to talk to each other at mealtimes. Try this: Go around the table and get everyone to name one positive thing they like about each family member. This exercise will “build one another up in love”, Ho notes.
By the way, while both the experts agree that sibling rivalry isn’t a good thing, Damayanti reckons that it can actually be productive. She laughs, “[The kids] can perform better with a certain amount of peer pressure. When doing house chores, for instance, my older kids compete to finish tasks faster their siblings.”