Siblings squabbling: it’s not just a tongue twister! If you have more than one child, sibling rivalry is a likely part of your reality. As parents, we want to offer our kids positive solutions and teach them empathy so they can resolve their differences successfully.
So how do we help our kids find a common ground? Here are a few strategies for taming the bickering.
Consider their ages. An older child may need more personal time and space, while a younger child may not yet have the verbal skills to articulate what he is feeling. Offering children appropriate ways to share their feelings helps them express themselves during sibling struggles, and gives them a real problem-solving tool.
Teach your kids emotional intelligence skills. Kids need to show kindness, respect, and empathy for one another. Helping them develop these skills will help them deal with conflict now and in years to come.
Make one-on-one time a priority. Try to carve out some alone time with each child. Doing this on a regular basis can minimize potential conflicts when your children have to share you with one another. And when you’re all together, make a concerted effort to not show one child more attention than the other(s).
Be proactive. You can motivate your kids to get along, even in the face of some common conflict triggers. This is one instance where I approve of (reasonable) bribes! If you’re about to embark on a long drive, give each child a toy to play with in car, or allow them to take turns in the “good” seat in the car (if they’re out of car seats).
Demonstrate the importance of calmness.Taking a deep breath and counting to ten is a great strategy for diffusing anger and regaining one’s composure. This goes for adults as well as children!
Set up an “Issue Box.” Kids need a concrete way to talk about things that might be bothering them. Have your children write down their concerns and drop them in the Issue Box. Then you can periodically pick a concern out of a hat and have a healthy discussion.
Hold family meetings.This is a great forum for establishing—and reinforcing—family rules. When I was growing up, we had family meetings every Friday night, often over pizza. Everyone got a turn to talk, and it was a very real time for building relationships. Family meetings can also be an ideal time for putting the Issue Box to use (see above).
Empathy and problem-solving skills are critical components of kids’ emotional health. We want our children to think about how their siblings feel and how to resolve their differences in a healthy and effective manner. It’s never too early to begin teaching them the fundamentals of feelings!
How-To Advice for Parents
Dealing with Mommy Guilt
Guilt. It’s no fun. It’s also inevitable, especially for parents. Why do you feel guilty? Maybe you feel like you’re too focused on work. Perhaps you owe several friends or family members phone calls or emails. Maybe your child asked to go on a vacation that you just can’t afford to take. Here’s the thing: unless you’ve done something that is clearly wrong, you have nothing to feel guilty about! Here are some quick points to keep in mind when you’re feeling guilty—and some ways to escape those feelings.
1. Don’t compare yourself to others.
We are constantly hit with powerful images that may remind us of what we don’t have, or what we aren’t giving our kids. It’s important not to use other people’s lives as the gauge by which you determine your own value or success as a parent. And even if, as Facebook or Instagram might suggest, your friends’ lives are as perfect as their pictures make it seem, so what? Remember that your kids know you love them and that you care about them. There’s no need to focus on what other people are up to, no matter how in-your-face that information may feel.
2. Say it out loud: “I’m capable, I’m competent,
and I’m a good mom.”
Use self-talk as often as you need to as a way of reminding yourself that there’s no such thing as a perfect mom. Psychologists use the self-talk approach in therapy with patients all the time and it’s a very effective strategy. (It’s even effective with preschoolers. For example, when they’re scared, they tell themselves that they’re brave.) Repetition and reinforcement can help drive points like these home for kids as well as adults.
We all strive to be perfect moms, but there’s just no such thing. We need to have more realistic expectations of ourselves, and that doesn’t make us mediocre moms. Does this mean you need to lower your expectations of yourself? Probably! Does that mean you’re going to be less of a good parent? No way!
3. Make time for yourself.
Are you thinking, “What time?” If so, then you’re probably someone who needs to make some time for yourself. It’s truly critical that you set good, healthy boundaries with everyone in your life—your partner, your friends, your boss, and yes, even your kids. Not only is it okay to sometimes say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t right now,” but it’s good for your health. When you take on more than you can handle, it’s easy to become resentful, angry, and yes, guilty. And those emotions may even evolve into feelings of self-loathing. It’s not positive and it’s not productive.
Take care of yourself in supportive, gentle ways. This might mean giving yourself time to read a chapter of a book you’ve been meaning to get to. It might mean finally getting to that yoga class—or even that 15-minute exercise video—you’ve been meaning to try. It might mean taking a nap! Whatever “time for yourself” means to you, it’s important to make it happen.
4. Be a positive role model for your kids.
You have to trust yourself, you have to stay strong and secure in what you believe in, and that’s what you need to communicate to your kids. Guilt is not a healthy emotion—it can be destructive, and like a poison. And it can be so all-consuming that we can’t get rid of it—it’s just there, and it’s a negative energy. As moms, we need to be emotionally healthy, and getting rid of the guilt will make room for happiness. And that’s what you and your family deserve!
5. Only feel guilty if you have something to feel guilty about.
It’s easy to take on guilt from your family, or even decide in your mind that you have something to feel guilty about. Sometimes people put guilt on us, but we don’t have to accept it. If you haven’t done anything wrong, then there’s nothing to feel guilty about. And if you have done something wrong? Deal with it: apologize to whomever you’ve hurt or disappointed. Talk about it. And put it behind you!
What is Empathy?
Empathy is an essential emotion. It’s an emotional intelligence (EQ) skill that reveals itself in our ability to understand the feelings of others. But it actually goes deeper still: Empathy is not only the ability to walk in another’s shoes but to provide comfort during their time of need.
Though intangible, teachable moments are very real tools you can use to raise an empathetic child. Sometimes those moments just happen to us—like the response to the fire my family experienced—and sometimes we have to create them.
Children learn empathy by watching their parents. We can model desired behavior at home by being responsive to our children’s needs. It’s never too early to start! Here are a few suggestions for modeling empathetic behavior and creating teachable moments in everyday life.
Talk about feelings.
Empathy is an important EQ skill for obvious reasons: we need to show our children, early on, how to contribute to society in various, age-appropriate ways. On the flip side, being empathetic can also make us feel better about ourselves. Volunteering has proven to be a therapeutic activity for people dealing with depression. Empathetic children tend to score higher on standardized tests and have enhanced academic achievement overall. In fact, kids who show empathy often also show a higher level of moral development than less empathetic kids.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could teach a whole generation of children how to be empathetic? Just imagine what our world would be like if everyone cared for one another! I can’t think of a more meaningful EQ skill to teach our children!
Many years ago, when my children were young, our house burned down on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, we got out safely, but were left with nothing but the clothes on our backs and our beloved dog.
The entire community rallied to help us through our terrible loss. Children who didn’t even know our family brought my kids some of their own Christmas gifts! I’ve been fortunate to have traveled the world to serve others in crisis but our family’s experience really hit home in terms of the kindness of strangers. To experience, firsthand, the empathy and kindness of all the people who so benevolently reached out was a very powerful lesson for myself and my children. It was a teachable moment of epic proportions and one that we will never forget!
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.