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Lions and Tigers and Siblings, Oh My!

One of my dearest hopes for my kids is that they grow up to be best friends. It’s my favorite mental picture, the idea of them gathered together long after I’m gone, laughing and looking out for each other. But right now? Today? In this world of shared rooms and shared clothes and shared toys and shared parents? There are days when the moments of peaceful siblinghood feel very far away.

I know, of course, that sibling rivalry is a normal phenomenon. Having more than one not-yet-fully-mature little human living in close quarters with other not-yet-fully-mature little humans will, understandably, breed some tension. I don’t think testy sibling relationships are necessarily an indicator of troubled relationships with siblings in adulthood. (If they were, I would still be holding a grudge against my little brother for answering the telephone with an Australian accent whenever one of my friends called during the entire year of 1988. I am not AT ALL still peeved over that, and I only mention it very publicly at Parenting’s website as an illustrative point, and not AT ALL because I am, in any way, gaining some satisfaction by getting him back for that at this very moment.)

Where was I?

Oh, yes, sibling rivalry.

Like I said, I think a fair dose of it is fine, though I don’t think that’s an excuse for parents to let it slide. I think a smart parent will acknowledge sibling tussles as developmentally normal, but still use them as a chance to teach kids about getting along. In our family, we have a whole list of strategies for reminding our little people that unkindness won’t be tolerated around here. These ideas include, but are not limited to:

Making them stay and work it out. Often, I’ll send them to a private, confined spot (a bench or a bed, perhaps), and tell them they can argue as long as they’d like, but nobody is getting up until they’ve worked out a solution that is agreeable to both of them. It’s amazing how fast they start negotiating, and it teaches them independent conflict resolution.

Requiring the fighters to sit together and holding hands. This is especially helpful when the fight in question is over a specific spot on the couch, a frequent hot-button around here. Best of all, what started as a fight quickly evolves into gales of laughter at the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

Writing sentences. Oh yes, we do. This provides some excellent cool-down time to stop and gather their thoughts. My husband’s favorite sentence to assign is “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Doing a sibling’s chores. This one is especially effective for a kid who is repeatedly picking on a sibling. If you are going to bully someone in this house, be prepared to tackle the chore list of the person you’re bullying. Works like a charm.

Positive reinforcement works, too. When I see a kid serving his sibling, I lavish praise. And occasionally, at random times, I’ll ask them to tell me something kind they’ve done for each of their siblings that day. They know to expect that question occasionally, and they actually take pride in being able to supply an impressive answer.

Most of all, I remind them regularly that these are long-haul relationships. The annoying little brother who just broke their Lego tower will be best man at their wedding someday. Despite a few bumps in the road, I think they’re getting it.

What about you? What’s your best strategy for dealing with sibling fights?

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