Disbanding the Sibling Fight Club
Do you feel like you’ve traded in your parenting hat for referee stripes? Parenting expert Michele Borba says you can enforce a truce on sibling battles and bickering.
Read on for five house rules that will stop the shouting and promote peace in your home today.
It’s the soundtrack to parenthood: the battles, the bickering, the rivalries. Mom- she’s touching me! He’s looking out my window! Tell her to get out of my room! Even on the best of days these sibling squabbles can make you want to pull your hair out. Add in busy schedules and mounting stress and coming home to conflict and contention can just be too much to handle. So what can you do when your living room more closely resembles a war zone rather than the relaxing retreat that it should be?
Though you can’t force your children to be best friends, you can get a handle on their squabbles and create a (relatively) harmonious home, says parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba.
“As you probably know already, just saying ‘You kids stop your fighting!’ isn’t going to cut it,” notes Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. “Kids respond to firm boundaries and clear cut directives. So what you have to do is lay out some non-negotiable rules and enforce them…period.”
Borba says that there are five simple house rules that will result in a (temporary, at least) cease-fire on all the fighting:
No yelling. Instate what Borba calls a “vow of yellibacy” in your house and enforce it. When tempers flare and feelings are hurt, the volume decibel tends to rise, causing arguments to quickly escalate and get out of hand. Just remember: the “no yelling” rule isn’t only for the kids, it goes for you too. Parents have to set the example for staying calm and collected when they are upset or angry as well.
“This should be rule number one,” asserts Borba. “All family members must use calm voices only—no yelling allowed. And if talks get heated, anyone can make a time-out hand sign hinting that he needs to cool down. When cooler heads prevail, arguments get resolved much more quickly and in a way that is less stressful for everyone.”
No taking without asking. Property ownership can be a BIG deal to little ones and the time-honored “Mooom, she’s touching my stuff!” complaint can be frequent in multi-child households. This can be a particularly touchy issue for tweens and teens—especially if there is a younger sibling in the house. Older siblings can get pretty upset when their iPods and laptops are confiscated by tiny, sticky (literally!) fingers.
“Insist that permission of the owner must be granted before borrowing, using, or taking any property,” Borba explains. “Not only will this cut down on the conflict, but it will also make it easier to resolve any arguments that may come up. If permission was not asked for and granted, then you know who broke the rule. Simple as that.”
No hurtful behaviors. With bullies and mean girls running the schools, it’s important that you set the standard for your home to be a safe haven for your kids. It should be a place free from hurtful behaviors. Set a strict policy: name-calling and hitting will not be tolerated, under any circumstances and they will result in a consequence. Tolerating hurtful behavior inside your home only encourages your kids to display it when you aren’t around as well—and that’s not a character trait any parent wants to encourage.
“This rule should stand for each child in your home, no matter what age they are,” Borba asserts. “The consequences may differ according to the age group: for a younger child, a display of hurtful behavior will result in a time-out. If your child is older, then it means the loss of a privilege. While hitting and hurtful words are sure to happen amongst siblings, it’s up to you to make them understand that you will not tolerate it under any circumstance.”
No involvement without evidence. If you are the parent of siblings, you’ve probably spent a good deal of time playing referee. Kids are quick to run to a parent’s aid to help settle their disagreements and if you weren’t a witness to the incident itself, then it can be hard to know exactly what to do. Borba says you should get involved in the conflict only if you actually saw or heard it occur. This will help to keep you neutral and will encourage your kids to adopt strategies to help them work things out for themselves.
“If your kids seek your help, but you don’t have any evidence, then step away,” Borba says. “Instead, suggest that they use Rock, Paper, Scissors to work out their problem. This prevents you from having to choose sides or take one kid’s word over another’s—and it will also teach them to work things out for themselves. After all, you won’t always be there to help them resolve their problems, so it’s better that they acquire the skills at home so they are ready when the time comes.”
No tattling. Siblings and tattling go hand in hand, so it’s inevitable that you’ll come across this parenting issue sooner rather than later. Not only is tattling an unattractive quality in kids, it can also breed resentment amongst siblings and can be the central to continuing conflict in a household. Keeping a “no tattling” policy in your household can be crucial to cutting back on the squabbles.
“The no tattling rule works wonders in curbing sibling resentment with younger kids,” Borba explains. “Tell your kids that unless they are telling you something to keep their sibling out of trouble or to prevent him or her from being hurt then you aren’t going to listen. Before any tattling gets well underway, ask ‘Is this a tattle?’ and if the answer is yes, then send them on their way.”
Of course, no matter what you do, sibling squabbles will happen on occasion. So don’t drive yourself crazy with unrealistic expectations for non-stop harmony. If you can keep battles from escalating and teach kids how to resolve them with minimal fallout, you can count it a success.
“Your kids don’t get along every minute of the day and they might not even like each other all the time, but they do have to respect each other’s feelings and be considerate of the need for empathy and stability in the family,” says Borba. “After all, the benchmarks of any strong relationship are empathy and respect—and if you can help your kids learn how to co-exist more peacefully, you’ll have taught them a valuable life skill they’ll appreciate for years to come."
Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an educational psychologist, former teacher, and mom. She is recognized for offering research-driven advice culled from a career of working with over one million parents, educators, and children. Michele is the author of 22 books, including her latest release, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. For more information, visit www.micheleborba.com.