How to Deal With Sibling Rivalry: 3 Phrases That Can Help

Guest Post By Alissa Marquess

Two happy siblings When my three kids are getting along, helping each other and playing nicely together, I feel a sense of peace. Usually, not long after this, I hear screaming from the other room and then one of them shows up at my side demanding that I dispense justice!

There goes my perfection daydream!

But is perfect calm really what matters when it comes to nurturing healthy sibling relationships?

Those peaceful times are certainly wonderful, but the other part of healthy relationships is being able to settle disagreements with one another, and part of our job as parents is to help kids learn to do this.

Today I’ll share a few phrases that I use to help my kids work through sibling rivalry and fights.

3 Phrases That Can Help With Sibling Rivalry

When it comes to siblings a certain amount of bickering is normal. Live in close quarters with anyone and you’ll find things that annoy you about the other person. Our kids, being young, don’t have as many tools as we do to handle these frustrations. As I say in my book Bounceback Parenting, healthy relationships are about connection, not perfection. What we want to do with our kids is to help them navigate sibling rivalries in a way that keeps their connection intact. This means looking for ways to help them set down blame and see one another with compassion.

Here are three phrases we use with our kids when sibling emotions run hot.

  1. “When you were that age we treated you differently too.”

We remind our kids that each of them is at different places in their lives and that means we have different expectations and rules for each of them.

My kids might complain about something one of their siblings gets to do or a chore they’re asked to do that one of their siblings doesn’t have to. My 7-year-old might ask, “But why can’t I ride my bike to the park by myself? James can!” Or my 11-year-old might whine, “Why do I have to clean the whole bathroom? You always help Azalea!”

This is when a phrase like the one above comes in handy: “When you were younger we had different chores for you too. You’re 11 now. As you grow, your responsibilities grow, but so does your freedom.”

2. “Someone else’s poor behavior is not an excuse for your own.”

Happy siblings playingWhen I walk into a sibling chaos scene and ask whomever I think is the aggressor to stop, I’m often met with the reply, “But he started it!!” And rather than get into a lose/lose battle with my kids I use this phrase, “Someone else’s poor behavior is not an excuse for your own.”

Sometimes with three kids I really have no clue what exactly was going on that sparked an argument, but at least I can discourage blame and self-righteousness, and instead encourage taking responsibility for your own actions.

3. “What is a solution you can brainstorm together?”

This leads to another helpful phrase when there is sibling rivalry and kids are fighting – I use a little formula I learned from Dr. Laura Markham to help the kids work on their own solutions together.

First I’ll restate the problem without judgment. For instance, a recent one was, “Ok, so there’s one seat in the far back of the car and all three of you want to sit there on our trip home. What is a solution you can brainstorm together?”

And then we let them come up with a solution.

Yes, this takes practice, but over time my kids have gotten better at problem-solving together and while I don’t always understand the reasoning behind their solutions, they generally are far more willing to enact them when they’ve come up with them rather than my husband or I laying down the law.

Sometimes with sibling rivalry it’s not about having the right thing to say at all

One more point about helping siblings with their disagreements. Sometimes, what helps most is not saying anything.

When one of my kids is frustrated, exhausted and exasperated with their siblings and they feel like there’s no possible way to get along, what they need more than anything else is for me to sit and listen to them. It can be very frustrating to be a big brother and not have your little brother listen to you. It can be infuriating to have your sister try to annoy you all afternoon while you try to do homework.

Frustration is just one of the truths of being a sibling.

It isn’t always easy, and there isn’t always a perfect solution, but having a caring adult who can listen and hear you can ease the burden.

You don’t have to know what to do or how to fix it for them in order to be there for them. Your listening will help them release some of their sibling frustration, and in the long run, the more everyone feels listened to, the more peace you’ll have for your whole family.

For more on how listening helps sibling rivalry read An Empathetic Response to Sibling Fighting that Avoids you Taking Sides

Got questions about Sibling Rivalry? Join the free Hand in Hand Parenting Support Group on Facebook.

Alissa Marquess is a mom to three, and the author of Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection. She helps parents build loving, resilient relationships with their kids without guilt. Online and in popular coaching sessions, she’s been inspiring millions of parents around the world since 2010. You can find her online at Bounceback Parenting.

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