Sibling rivalries are normal. However, these tiny skirmishes can develop into something much larger if you are not careful. Although some parents think they just need to let their kids fight it out, this is never the best approach. Here are some parental steps you can take to create a more harmonious relationship in the household.
End the Aggressive Behavior Right Away
As soon as you see one sibling calling the other one names or hitting them, you should intervene immediately. You need to teach your kids how to respect one another even when they don’t agree on something. Then, use it as a teaching opportunity to show how they should resolve differences appropriately. By involving yourself early, your children begin building relationship skills in a more pleasing environment. They’ll, in turn, use these skills at school or in their future friendships to have healthier relationships later in life.
Approach the Situation with Empathy
“Bullying is a power struggle,” says Michael Anthony-Nalepa, licensed psychotherapist and creator of The Psychology of Bullying course at Antioch University, the first such program in the country. He tells Parentology, “If one sibling is bullying another sibling, what that tells me is whoever’s bullying, their needs aren’t getting met.”
So how do you find out what those needs are? Well, start by asking. Take the bully aside and let them express themselves.
“Kids often amaze me,” says Nalepa. “When you sit down and ask them, ‘Why are you doing this?’ they almost always will give you the answer if they feel safe. They might say ‘Because you like them better than me’ or ‘Because you think she’s prettier.’ But if they feel that they’re about to be attacked, they’ll lie.” If you can find out what’s really motivating the bullying, you can take steps to alleviate it.
Model and Teach Respect
The best way to teach your kids how to treat one another is to provide them with an excellent role model.
“Children don’t know bullying is a proper way to act out at home if they haven’t seen it or experienced it already,” asserts Nalepa. “We can say they learned it at school or from video games, but in my experience, children do it because they’ve been given permission to be this way in their house.”
That means taking a look at your own behavior and own up to it if you’ve done something that would allow them to think this was okay. If you treat people with respect they will also.
It’s normal for your kids to be jealous of your affection to their spouse every once in a while. But, you always want your kids to feel that things in the household are fair.
“It’s not always about giving your children the exact same thing,” says Nalepa. “It’s about getting their individual needs met. Say you put both of your kids in soccer, [but] one of your kids hates soccer — so maybe you find another activity that has the same benefit of getting them in touch with their body. It’s more about overall equity than making sure your kids get the exact same specific things.”
Many parents fall into the trap of dubbing their kids “the smart one” or “the athletic one.” It can seem harmless, but your kids internalize all of that. Your kids are special in different ways, and you want to point it out regularly. When children do not receive such recognition, they feel the need to lash out and make others feel worse.
Teach Them Problem-Solving Skills
Kids do not usually know how to solve problems without anyone teaching them. Initially, they’ll resort to unhealthy problem-solving methods. It’s up to you to teach them a better way. Give your children real-life problems to solve and help them come up with the best solutions. You should be there to supervise them initially, but over time, there should be less stress between them when problems arise.
One of the best ways to ward off bullying is to teach your kids empathy. This is the ability to understand how others are feeling. When children are empathetic toward others, they see how their words and actions impact their siblings and friends. As their emotional intelligence increases, they’ll be far less likely to bully. To be a healthy adult, kids need to learn empathy early on. It is an essential tool in becoming a better person.
Create Family Check-In Times
Having a set time and place for open family discussions is a great way to keep tabs on how situations are improving — or not. For example, you might agree as a family that every other Sunday after dinner you’ll have a calm, open discussion about how everyone is feeling and ask questions like, “Are things better or is the bullying still an issue?”
“Bullying between siblings isn’t something where you do these three steps and boom, then it’s solved,” stresses Nalepa who is also the Executive Director of the Anonymous Initiative, an organization dedicated to helping people overcome their inner bully. “It’s an evolving process that needs continual revisiting so setting aside a time and space to do that is crucial.”