“Mommy! Mommy! He won’t stop looking at me! I want him to leave me alone because he was mean.”
Tears streaming. Everyone’s screaming. Both of them are trying to yell their side of the story louder than the other, hoping I’ll side with them. My son is clenching his fists and turning red. My daughter is jumping up and down in frustration.
And this is the third time today.
I HAD to learn how to handle sibling rivalry for their sake and mine…
The Usual Way to Deal with Sibling Rivalry
My usual way of handling their arguments was what I thought was the right way.
Get them to stop yelling.
Have each tell their side of the story.
Put on my judge hat and decide what each of them did wrong.
Talk to them about it.
Make them apologize and hug it out.
Time-outs will be given when/if necessary.
If I’ve refereed my limit of fights for the day, they can figure it all out themselves. After all, they have to figure it out at some point, right?
It seems that’s what most other parents do too. But was it working? Was I teaching them anything about empathy or understanding the other person? Was I preventing future fights? Or just getting by?
So I went searching.
For the most part, I found other people doing things similar to what I was already doing. I also found tips about things like getting a giant tee shirt for them to share, making them hold hands, sit nose to nose or wash opposite sides of the same glass. All of that (while tempting) sounded more like punishing them with each other’s presence. That was the opposite of what I wanted.
So what was a method that would actually work and help them learn valuable communication skills in the process?
The New Way
As I shared with you in another post, God has been really changing my perspective on parenting. While I could understand the thought process behind all the usual methods of dealing with sibling rivalry, my heart was telling me there was more. There had to be a better way. Settling for “well they just don’t like each other. Let them sort it out” wasn’t going to cut it.
I understand I can’t always be the referee. Who even wants to do that? I know allowing them to solve their own conflicts fosters independence and maturity. But my kids need tools to figure it out first, or it will be the blind leading the blind. Nothing will truly get resolved, and no lessons on empathy and respect for relationships with others will actually be learned.
I looked at a ton of resources. And finally I was able to boil it down to the absolute best ways to help my kids transform their relationship.
First things first, home environment matters! But I also found a really practical way to deal with the conflict while it’s happening. Ready?
Before a Fight Erupts
Preventing outbursts sometimes comes down to having the right foundations already in place for solid relationships and good self-esteem. Here are some things to have in place as a constant:
For positive parent/child relationships
- Emphasize strengths in all your children, praise them individually, honor their individuality & celebrate their differences.
- Allow unconditional love to rule in your home.
- Fill each child’s cup with love and attention often, and regularly spend one-on-one time with them.
- Try not to yell. Monkey see, monkey do, right? If we handle conflicts by yelling, chances are they will too. For more on that, read this post.
For positive sibling relationships
- Have a zero tolerance policy for yelling, hitting, saying mean things, etc.
- Give them problems to solve together, and play games that require them to work as a team
- Acknowledge & praise them when they’re helping one another
- Avoid interrupting happy play
- Make sure each gets their personal space
- Raise their oxytocin levels with laughing, singing, dancing, rough-housing, etc.
- Teach them to pray for one another
A good idea shared on another blog: teach them that its their choice how they react to other people. For more on that, you can read this article by Mama in the Now.
A Word on Being a Prayerful Mom
We have spiritual authority in our homes (and lives, in general). In these types of situations, we should definitely use it! What are you seeing in your home? Anger, frustration, misunderstanding, impatience, selfishness? Rise up and tell those things to go. In their place, ask God to strengthen everyone’s desire for peace. Ask Him to help each person with understanding. Proclaim that unconditional love and respect for others will rule in your home. Find verses to stand on, and speak them over your home daily.
We don’t have to be victims to chaos!
When Conflict Strikes
When conflict does arise, be prepared to be patient. Especially in the beginning. We’re in the early stages of implementing this strategy in our home, and it isn’t something that just happens over night.
When I was researching, I nearly leaped out of my seat after coming to a blog post on the “Peace Process.” I’ll include the link below. I LOVE the author and her perspective. It’s full of truth and wisdom. Definitely worth the read!
So what exactly does this process entail?
The Peace Process
1) Calm down
First things first–take a deep breath. I know the rush of irritation that comes from hearing the whining voices and stomping feet. But our level of calmness affects theirs. Remember conflict is normal, and how we model frustration-management matters.
Once you’re calm and ready to jump in, address the kids.
Simply put, we all need our space sometimes in the heat of debate. Especially if feelings have been hurt. If everyone is yelling over top of each other and the tears are rolling, give them a minute to see if they calm down when they notice you’re calm. If not, use a firm voice to cut through the noise, and ask if they need a break on their own before working anything out.
2) Understand each other
This step is for both us and our kids. While they’re calming down, ask yourself how you can let the kids know you understand the way they’re feeling. Also think about how you may be able to help them understand one another.
When they’re ready, ask them to think about how the other person may be feeling. It’s important not to take sides here. Stay neutral, remembering the problem is whatever they’re arguing about, NOT them. Once each of them has given an explanation of the other’s feelings, have them give one another feedback. Were they spot on? Or were they interpreting the other child’s feelings incorrectly?
3) Solve the conflict
- In this situation, what could you have done differently to keep from fighting?
- Did your actions hurt someone else? How?
- How do you want to make things right?
At first, they’ll most likely need help processing through this step, especially if they’re used to the blame game. This method emphasizes taking responsibility for your own actions instead of looking at what others did wrong.
It is so so so important during this phase to remember: no condemnation. The way we word these questions and the tone of our voice as we deliver them really does make a difference. If you’re trying to heap shame on them for not communicating effectively, it’s not going to solve the problem. In reality, it will make them more likely to lie or become defensive. It’s super easy for us to jump in and start pointing fingers. But if this is going to work, we need to help them realize where they went wrong and what they could have done better.
Side note: make sure children know the difference between an argument and bullying. It’s important for them to know if someone is bullying them, there’s nothing they personally did wrong.
Woohoo! They did it, and you’re one step closer to intervening a lot less. High fives and encouraging words all around! Even baby steps of progress are worth praise. It’s hard to work through issues even for us adults sometimes!
For more on the Peace Process and other truly awesome tidbits, visit To Love, Honor, and Vacuum’s article here.
Doesn’t sound like it’s for you? Of course there are other methods out there. This is just the one we chose for our home. Another great idea from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls: after using more practical methods to address the conflict, address the heart with engaging Bible lessons at home. You can check out her verse lesson on Proverbs 12:18 here.
There ya have it! It’s all about creating positive relationships, being prayerful, and implementing a plan that teaches kids to examine their own hearts and what they could do better. Sure, it’s a lot of work to get there. But isn’t it worth it to transform our families?
What are some of your favorite ways to handle sibling rivalry?
Until next time,
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