Winter break is a time for family fun. Parents set expectations high for that perfect family vacation at the beach, on the slopes, visiting new places, or enjoying a stay-cation. Along with your dreams of your perfect family vacation, there needs to also be an expectation for sibling conflict. Sibling conflict is a natural part of relationships, and parents should expect an increase in these interactions particularly when siblings are together for longer periods of time in less structured environments. Some of the reasons for sibling conflict revolve around feeling bored, seeking more attention, and experiencing jealousy or a lack of fairness. To decrease sibling conflict, parents can use the following five tools:
- Positive Attention is necessary for all individuals. When children don’t receive positive attention, they tend to demand attention through negative behaviors. Spend time together playing a game, chatting about their day, taking a walk, or completing a project. It is much more enjoyable to do these things than to try to stop tantrums and resolve arguments. Think about praising each of your children individually and specifically when you see him/her being helpful, kind, mature, and responsible. For example, “I see that you are setting the table, thank you so much for your help.” Highlight specifically the role that each child plays in the family and labeling his/her strengths. For example, “Because you are such a responsible and creative individual, I know that you would want to help your little brother find something fun to play.” These small moments of positive attention add up to a happier parent/child relationship and child/sibling relationship.
- Modeling respect and problem solving is key for your children. If you want them to respect one another, they too need to be respected. In addition, parents should model and coach children through problem solving approach. When one child can listen and understand the perspective of another, he/she will be better able to achieve a compromise, or generate more solutions to the problem. Encourage your child to first calm down before they express themselves. Once he/she can use an even tone of voice, the problem can be stated using an “I statement”, and then together you can help them generate at least two solutions to the problem. It is natural that there is conflict in relationships, but learning the process for resolving conflicts is essential.
- Set specific family rules that negative language, name-calling, being physical, or yelling are not acceptable methods for children to achieve what they want. Also, add that children need to apologize and repair when there is a problem. In their apology they need to not just say, “I’m sorry” but rather, they have to identify what they are sorry for and state a way that they are going to try and make a change so that the problem does not continue to repeat itself. These rules can be generated during a family meeting so that each child is able to contribute and have a sense of ownership over the rules.
- Provide structure for each day so that children can anticipate what they need to handle over the course of their day. Try to include at least one activity that each child will enjoy. You can create a list of various fun activities he/she can do around the house for enjoyment, such as building a fort or obstacle course, completing a craft project, playing ball, building Legos, creating a treasure hunt, or playing a board game.
- Physical activity also decreases sibling conflict because it helps organize children and gives them an outlet for their energy. Whether it is taking a walk, bike riding, playing a sport, or rolling or sledding down a hill, children need the opportunity to have physical activity each day.
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