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There's no better sound than siblings laughing and playing together. And there's no sound more grating than the two of them arguing and tattling on one another. You're not alone if you sometimes feel more like a referee than a parent when it comes to disputes between your children. Likely, you've been accused of taking one side or the other or allowing one child to always get his way. Deciding when to step in and how to help resolve the dispute in a fair way can be tricky. However, with some consistent interventions, it's possible to help siblings learn how to get along.
Prevent Sibling Disputes When Possible
Siblings are going to squabble with one another, and you certainly can't prevent it all the time. However, there are steps parents can take to reduce the amount of arguing between children. Parenting consultant Meg Akabas, founder of Parenting Solutions in New York City and author of "52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids," says, "To reduce rivalry in the first place, make sure each child gets a good dose of individual attention. Parents should have an activity with each child that provides special shared time with just that child." When kids receive plenty of individual attention from a parent, they are less likely to compete with a sibling for the attention, which is often at the heart of sibling rivalry.
Learning how to respectfully disagree with someone is a valuable skill. Kids need to know what sort of behavior is acceptable and what isn't when they disagree. "Establish clear expectations with your children at a young age. This should include no shoving, hitting, poking, kicking of any kind, and a rule that one does not use hurtful language," says Akabas. She adds that it's important to teach kids that even pesky little sisters and bossy big brothers deserve respect. "You should expect your children to be as respectful to each other as they are to non-family members."
Give Kids a Chance to Work It Out
Parents shouldn't always jump in to resolve arguments right away. Kids should have an opportunity to try and solve the conflict on their own. Says Akabas, "Children who can negotiate well with their siblings are also good at resolving conflicts with others." Allow them to practice resolving conflict together as long as no one is being threatened, bullied or hurt. Provide a warning if it doesn't look like they will be able to resolve the issue in a timely manner. For example, say, "If you can't decide who is going first within the next two minutes, I'll take the game away and you'll need to find something else to do."
If anyone breaks the rules by hitting or name-calling, intervene right away. "Decide whether an apology, separating the children, or a consequence is appropriate, and follow through," suggests Akabas. A consequence may include taking away the object the kids were fighting about or removing a special activity or privilege. Time-out can also be a good strategy to help kids calm down when they are angry. Apologies can be verbal or written, depending on the child's age.
Give Kids the Tools to Resolve Conflict
It's important that kids learn how to successfully settle their differences. Young children in particular need help when it comes to arguments with siblings. Akabas suggests that parents "walk them through negotiations, showing them the tools to work things out and helping them come up with possible solutions." Show kids how to take turns sharing their ideas and listening patiently while the other person talks. Teach them how to problem-solve when they both want different things, and give examples of how to compromise and negotiate. Siblings also need to learn how to manage their anger and their impulses so they don't become physically and verbally aggressive.
Point Out Success
When your kids are playing together nicely, don't let it go unnoticed. Praise them for taking turns, waiting patiently, being helpful to one another and resolving conflict peacefully. For example, say, "Thank you so much for letting your sister go first. That was nice of you," or "That was a really good choice to use your words to ask your sister to stop when you didn't want her to poke you in the arm anymore." And most importantly, when your kids are getting along, enjoy the moment. Appreciate their laughter and their ability to practice the skills you've taught them.