There are loads of things I love about schools holidays; a break from the busy morning routine of bag packing and lunchbox making, the chance to get away and explore new places as a family, and of course the chance to spend more time with my children. Unfortunately, the chance to spend more time with each other doesn’t seem to be at the top of their list. Well, before 9am this morning – the very first day of the school holidays – the arguing was already driving me a little crazy.
I reacted by sending them to their bedrooms to calm down (they still managed to annoy each other by knocking on the wall that divided them), but I realised they can’t stay there for the next two weeks. So my next step was to do what I do best – research. John Cowan wrote a great story for Parenting magazine on sibling rivalry. I reread it and here of some of his tips that I’ll be taking on board these holidays.
- Cope before you conquer
Long before you conquer sibling rivalry (if you ever do), you can be coping with it. One of the best techniques is simply to separate them. If kids are irritating each other, maybe everyone will enjoy some time apart. Key to coping is having family rules in place that are real limits to aggressive, unpleasant behaviour.
Boundaries won’t fix the underlying rivalry, but it does mean that they know that hitting, abuse or damaging property is absolutely forbidden, and it prevents the rivalry escalating. “We don’t speak like that in this home. Each of you cool off in your rooms for five minutes, and then I want to hear how you can sort this out.” “Hey! If you hit, you sit! Both of you, on the floor. Now! No, further apart. so you can’t reach each other.“
- Have special times with each child
I do not know how much time a child actually needs from a parent, but a child will probably be content if they have the knowledge that they will be getting some special, one-on-one focussed attention from their parent in the foreseeable future. They won’t resent you taking time to pacify their baby brother if they have been assured that tonight you are going to read them a story. They will be satisfied with the idea that your time and attention has to be divided between other brothers and sisters (and work and chores and study and a dozen other things) if they know that their name is on the calendar for a ‘Mum-date’ or a ‘Dad-date’ – a fun time with just one child and a parent.
- You don’t have to intervene every time
Remember, sometimes sibling rivalry happens because they know it draws you in and gets your attention. We don’t have to jump to attention every time our kids snap their fingers. We do not have to be at their beck and call all the time, and our own boundaries and authority need to be respected.
If there is hitting, abuse, bullying going on then rush to intervene, but if they are managing to express their disagreement to each other in a way which is not too unpleasant or aggressive, then let it run for a while. You can even do some coaching. “Good to hear you trying to sort this out. Let your brother have his say and then you can have your turn.” Rather than sorting them out, establish the ground rules – “No hitting, no insults. Stick to the issue.”
One type of apparently peaceful disagreement may need your intervention – you may have a child who is very forceful with her words (I say ‘her’ because girls can be so much more skillful with their language). Of course you would protect your children from physical aggression, but take care they don’t get verbally bullied as well.