A sibling is often a blessing in disguise. He can be your best friend one moment and an archenemy the next. Sibling rivalry can get out of hand, though, when rules for behavior are not established early on. “Parents need to help their children establish rules and boundaries for how to get along with another,” says Dr. Nancy Buck, a Colorado-based developmental psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parenting.” Help your children work out their differences peacefully by establishing rules for behavior between siblings as a family.
If bickering between your children is in full gear, it’s time to put the family to work establishing rules and boundaries. Make rule setting a group effort by hosting a family meeting to make a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Start off the meeting by establishing the non-negotiable rules, such as no violent behavior or hurtful language. As the adult, it’s important for you to begin the discussion while also allowing your children to have input. This way, you meet needs while modeling responsible behavior. “Adults, including parents, teachers and others, are responsible to help children meet their needs responsibly,” says Buck.
One of the most common disagreements between siblings revolves around sharing possessions. It’s important for parents to figure out ways to help children solve the problem without solving the disagreement for them, says Buck. “Help the children learn to create the rules together,” she says. “For instance, if both children want to play with a toy, they have options: 1) play with the toy together, 2) take turns by setting a timer, or 3) find another toy of equal value.”
Behavior contracts can offer both rewards and consequences for your children when interacting with each other. After a family meets to discuss rules regarding chores, homework completion, acceptable language and disagreement resolutions, draw up a contract and have your children sign on the dotted line. “Have the entire family review it, make sure they agree and sign it,” says Raquel Lefebvre, Vermont-based licensed psychologist. “Keep a copy somewhere where all family members can see it and if rules get broken, parents usually point to the contract and their child's signature and remind them of their agreement.”
The contract should stipulate rewards for good behavior and consequences for violations. With this constant reminder, a signed contract encourages siblings to work together to meet a common goal and decrease fighting.
Keep your children motivated to treat each other well by establishing a payback system. As a family, agree on “paybacks” for any rules that are broken. “A payback refers to doing something nice to make up for breaking a rule,” says Lefebvre. “For example, if your child calls his brother a name, his payback might be that he has to do his brother’s chores for a day.”
Up the payback and encourage appropriate behavior when non-negotiable family rules are broken. If your children don’t keep their hands to themselves or hit and kick someone, they have to do the sibling’s chores for a week. Or, if one child speaks disrespectfully to another, she has to do the dishes. Establishing paybacks up front eliminates any confusion or future arguments about household and sibling rules. “Reiterate that the goal is to have a happy safe home where we all get along,” says Lefebvre.