10 Things You Can Do To Help Your Kids Get Along Better

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If you’re a parent with more than one child, you’re probably experiencing some sibling rivalry. Often, siblings clash because they’re different ages and want different things, or because they’re close in age and want the same things. And, like all of us, even the most loving brothers and sisters (or brothers and brothers, or sisters and sisters) have bad days and conflicts. However, at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we truly believe your children can be friends for life, with a little help from their parents. To help you prevent sibling tensions and lay the groundwork for solid, lifelong relationships, we offer these tips and guidelines from ahaparenting.com.

Why does rivalry occur?

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Rivalry between two, three or more siblings, of the same or opposite sex, is a competition for your attention and love. You as their parent are crucial in their lives, and they would rather not share you with anyone, particularly a brother or sister. Other contributing factors are: the individual personalities of your children, their mutual or differing interests, their ages, the amount of time they spend with one another and with you, and any perceived favoritism (however unintentional) you or your partner may show toward one child.

10 ways to help your kids co-exist in harmony

  1. Teach your children skills to get along with each other.

All human relationships will have some conflict, and we can’t expect children (of any age) to always work things out peacefully. We tell children to use their words, but often they don’t know what words to use, especially when they’re upset or jealous. What can you do as parents? Start by giving your kids language to express what they’re feeling, without attacking each other. For example: “You didn’t like the way your brother was pushing you so you pinched him. Pinching hurts and we don’t hurt each other. Next time, tell your bother, ‘Stop pushing me. I don’t like it.’” Set limit: “No pinching. Pinching hurts.”

  1. During a fight, don’t take sides but simply state what you see, then give siblings the opportunity to work it out themselves.

Think of yourself as a neutral referee. For example, when your kids are fighting over a toy, you could say: “I see two kids who both want to play with the toy, that must be so frustrating. What can you do to work it out together? I’ll be back in five minutes and let’s see what you come up with.”

  1. Try to let your children self-regulate taking turns and sharing instead of forcing them to.

When you force kids to share, they learn: “My sibling and I are in constant competition to get what we need. I don’t like him/her.” But when they themselves figure out how to take turns with a toy, book or game, they learn: “I can ask for what I want. Sometimes I get a turn soon, sometimes I have to wait. Everybody gets a turn sooner or later.”

  1. Don’t compare your kids to each other, or to any other child.

When you tell one child how much better at something the other child is (brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, sports, grades), what they hear is that you love that one more. Having said this, be careful: even positive comparisons can backfire. If you say: “I wish your brother would sit still and do his homework like you do,” your daughter thinks: “I’m the good kid so I always need to be good to be loved.” In addition, this kind of negative comparison labels the other child the “bad kid.”

  1. Try to create an atmosphere of kindness and appreciation within your family.

Give your children opportunities to be kind to each other and appreciate each other. For instance, try asking each child at dinner say at least one thing they appreciate about their sibling(s), such as: “I like that Jody helped me with my homework.” “I appreciated it when Danny didn’t bother us when my friends came over to play.”

  1. Make sure your kids get enough personal space away from each other.

Siblings have to share toys, family activities, often clothes and rooms, and most of all, parents’ attention. That’s a lot to share, especially for kids who have different temperaments. Make a special effort to spend time with each child every day, or if that’s not possible, every week. It helps if they have different interests, play different sports and have different sets of friends. The goal is to foster their own individuality and sense of self.

  1. Pay attention to the time of day or night when conflicts usually occur.

Is it before naps, bedtime or when your kids are hungry? It might help to change their routine, give an earlier meal or snack, or think of quiet activities they can do apart, not together, when they’re not getting along.

  1. Being fair is important, but it’s not the same as being equal.

Children of different ages usually have different privileges, but if they understand that this is because one child is older, they’re more likely to see this as fair. Reassure them that you don’t love the older child better and that’s the reason he/she gets to do things they can’t yet.

  1. Plan family activities that are fun for everyone.

Try to find experiences that everybody in the family likes to do together (hiking, going for ice cream, trick or treating, visiting an amusement park). This helps form positive family bonds and lifelong memories, plus it’s easier to work it out with someone, and harder to be in conflict with them, when you’ve shared great times together.

  1. Make sure each child knows they are loved.

Every child needs to know from his/her parents: “There is more than enough love for me no matter how much my brother/sister gets.”

Here are some helpful blogs we’re written on the subject:

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball