I've come to observe the times when my children are most likely to squabble and fight and have noted some observations about these times that might offer some insight into your own children's sibling rivalries.
1. Too much free time and lack of direction
This is probably the biggest offender. When we take long breaks from homeschooling, I typically do not fill in those hours with anything structured; and I always pay the price.
Too much free time is actually unhealthy for children. Offering some direction and allowing them freedom in that place is completely different then unsupervised, non-directed free time.
Offering ideas to help channel our children's creativity through various avenues will make their "free time" count for something other then wasted hours fighting or complaining (because they have nothing better to do). If your children enjoy art, set them at the table with painting or drawing.
Have them help you in the kitchen and with the laundry. Children need direction. Even if they do not (or cannot) voice it, they need to be lead, not left to themselves.
Is there resentment against a sibling that builds and explodes? Does the younger sibling get away without correction or discipline while the older sibling is chastised or disciplined?
I have found myself giving excuses for my younger children when really, they need to be corrected. They will never learn the right way if we always make excuses for their bad behavior: stealing a toy, throwing, hitting, screaming, etc. When we use the excuse, "They don't know any better", it's because we aren't training them better.
This can build resentment in your older child and cause more fighting amongst the siblings. We definitely don't want that!
3. Lack of discipline
When we consistently let sibling fights go, they will consistently happen, and probably become more frequent and more intense. I have found myself brushing off the need to discipline my children because I was engaged in something else. I ignore it or tell them they need to deal with it and obviously they cannot deal with it or there wouldn't be an escalation in rivalry in the first place!
The guilty party needs to be disciplined. And consistently. Period.
4. Lack of training or instruction
Training our children how to handle conflict is not only important to confront sibling squabbles but is a necessary tool for life! There is no better training then on the job training. Hands on experience. This is the place to start.
These things need to be taught constantly and be used as reminders often. They're not necessarily a one time ordeal and forgotten. These are the tools needed for everyday life.
Recognizing these four issues and applying the principals to counteract them should drastically reduce the amount of sibling rivalry. There are always exceptions to the rule, though!
How have you handled sibling rivalry in a way that gets results?
Christin, Joyful Mothering
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