Surefire Ways to Help Your Kids Get Along
by Meg Akabas for GalTime.com
“Mommy, Ava pushed me!”
“Jake is bothering me again!”
“Can’t you get Alex to stop annoying me, Dad?”
If you're a parent with more than one child, you've probably heard these kinds of protests from the kids. And, to be sure, at the top of the list of common parenting obstacles is lack of harmony in the home. I’m often asked, “Is it even possible to have children who don’t fight with each other?”
The answer is “yes!” Parents can and should work to foster respectful and pleasant relationships among siblings. After all, there are many difficulties and unpleasant situations our children will have to face in the big, wide world as they grow; their family should be a source of calm and safety on which they can always rely. Being able to get along well, not just with their parents, but also with brothers and sisters, is important for a child’s sense of security, self-esteem and healthy emotional development.
You may be thinking “my children are too far apart in age,” or “they are too different in personality and interests” to get along. But, the fact is that kids can develop wonderful relationships even with siblings with whom they seem to have nothing in common and whose temperaments are polar opposites.
The process of nurturing respectful relationships, however, almost always requires intention and effort. Here are four things parents can do to proactively help siblings get along.
Spend plenty of time with each child individually
You can help reduce the feelings of sibling rivalry by offering your attention to children individually. This is a critical step and I encourage parents to plan an activity with each child that provides special shared time with only that child. Don’t leave this up to chance; schedule regular undistracted time alone suited to each child’s particular interests, whether it’s baking together once a week, taking a bike ride on Sunday mornings or having a regular movie date each month.
Set family respect rules (and consequences)
Set the highest bar for respect towards each other. Establish clear expectations with your children at a young age. This should include no shoving, hitting, poking, kicking or physical force of any kind. Likewise, hurtful language is never benign and is unacceptable. If you don't already have a set of house rules about how your children treat each other, write them down on a large poster and have a family meeting to go over them with your kids. Then you will need to be consistent about enforcing these rules by not letting any unacceptable behavior toward siblings slip by. Decide on an appropriate consequence — an apology, separating the children or a swift end to whatever game or activity is happening at the time — and follow through.
Teach children how to work it out on their own
It's critical to show kids how to peacefully resolve their conflicts. Children, like all of us, will have disagreements, but we can prevent those moments from escalating into fights. Walk your children through negotiations, showing them the tools to work things out. For example, give each child a chance to state what they want and help them come up with possible solutions. Once children have the tools to resolve disputes, then parents can intervene less and instead put the responsibility on the siblings to come to terms peacefully. You can say: "I hear you're arguing over who is going to play with that toy. I'll give you 3 minutes to see if you can calmly come to an agreement, and if not, we'll put that toy away and find something else for you to do together."
Spend time playing cooperative games
Establish activities, hobbies, and projects that foster cooperation among your children. Possibilities include: playing card or board games, creating artwork together (which can sometimes be for specific occasions, such as drawing a picture for grandma for her birthday), doing science projects or puzzles together, sharing a recreational sport, taking a class together, making up songs or putting on "shows" (e.g. create a puppet show to perform for mom), or starting a special collection. Even if your kids are far apart in age or seem to have nothing in common, there are always possibilities for collaboration. Take the example of making a card for someone: each child can contribute in their own way given their talents and capabilities. A young child can decorate the cover and an older child can write the message. (If you have more than two children, find something special for each configuration of pairs of siblings to do together regularly).
When children treat each other with respect and have a shared goal and/or interest they will want to spend time together. A Penn State study showed that on average, children spend about a third of their free time with siblings — more time than they typically spend with anybody else, including parents and friends. And, the relationship with a sibling is usually the longest bond one will have in life. The effort we make as parents to foster positive ties among our kids is worth the joy it will bring both to you and to them.
Surefire Ways to Help Your Kids Get Along