If you have more than one child, chances are you have some days when you feel more like a referee than a parent. I know I do - my twin boys are truly the best of friends, but they are still siblings! So, they fight, wrestle, and scream at each other several times every day. The latest major tussle? I got a text from my husband, who was home with the kids while I was at work, which said: "A gave F a bloody nose. He punched him in the nose for saying he was a good guy when A wanted him to be a bad guy." Preschool problems are no joke.
In any case, I have done a lot of research - for my own family as well as for the families I work with - on how to increase sibling harmony (and parental sanity). Hopefully some of these work for you!
- First and foremost, recognize that fights between siblings are normal! Your kids are learning how to solve conflicts, understand friendships and social situations, and generally be members of society. If you expect 100% harmony all the time, you are in for major disappointment!
- Don't sweat the small stuff. Let your children settle small disagreements by themselves. Not only do you not have time for every little argument, but letting them settle things on their own teaches them valuable life lessons - problem solving, social skills, and independence to name a few.
- Teach them how to solve problems. During an argument is NOT the time to do this. Talk to your kids after the fact, when everyone is calm again. You can use puppets or dolls to illustrate your point if your kids are younger. For instance, we talked with our son about the above example: "A, you punched F when you were mad. This really hurt him and made him bleed. What else could you have done instead of hitting?" We then came up with several options, such as talking to his brother, walking away, counting to ten, taking deep breaths, and hitting a pillow.
- Reward them for playing nicely. Set up a simple sticker chart for playing nicely with siblings. A complete sticker chart can then be used to get a bigger reward, such as a small toy, a new book, or a trip to a favorite playground. It is up to you to "catch them being good," and to provide praise and stickers for positive behavior. In the beginning, you want to be sure to give lots of praise so they make the connection between positive behavior and good things. Make sure your praise is really specific, such as "Tommy, I really like how you are sharing your Legos with your sister!" or "Great job playing pretend with Alex!" or "You're really working together to build that tower!"
- Use natural and logical consequences. For example, if your children are fighting over which television program to watch, turn off the TV until they can come to an agreement. If they fight over a toy, put away the toy until they can agree to share. If one child intentionally breaks something belonging to the other child, they should be held to fixing or replacing it. Of course, for aggressive behavior (i.e., hitting, biting, kicking, etc), use time out as a chance to be removed from the situation and cool down.
- Build empathy. Encourage your child to do things to help his/her siblings. For instance, an older child might help you pack the diaper bag or "babysit" an infant while you cook dinner (i.e., gently push a swing, bounce a bouncy seat, or "read" a book). When one child gets himself a snack or a drink, encourage him to also get one for his sibling. While drawing pictures, encourage your child to draw a picture for her younger brother, maybe using his favorite color.
Remember that fighting is a normal and necessary part of sibling relationships...and maybe get yourself a whistle!