Parenting

How to Handle Sibling Squabbles

“Fine. Just stay away from me!” she yelled. My daughter’s door slammed and I heard her crying.

“Why do you always do that!? Why are you always so mean?” my other daughter yelled back as she stomped into their share bedroom. The door slammed again.

Lots of arguing followed.

It was one of those mornings. The two oldest siblings had spent most of it at each others’ throats for various reasons, and I had enough of their bickering. I determined to find a solution to the morning’s chaos once and for all. I walked firmly across the hall and opened their bedroom door, “Both of you have chores. Together. Go. Downstairs. Now!”

They groaned and went downstairs scowling at each other.

“See what you’ve done,” one of them said to the other.

“Me? This is all your fault,” the other replied.

“If you keep fighting I will give you more chores,” I threatened, but the message didn’t seem to sink in because for the next thirty minutes the two girls gripped about how each other did the specified chores.

“You’re supposed to wipe the counter this way!”

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“Stop telling me what to do! Mom, tell her to stop telling me what to do!”

Instead of entering into the fray, I continued to add more and more chores until they got the message that they wouldn’t be free from working until they stopped fighting. Despite themselves, they finally stopped. After their reluctant cease-fire I decided to add one last “chore.”

How to Handle Sibling Fighting

“Get your shoes and take the baby for a walk. Together,” I said.

Then, a funny thing happened. They smiled. “Okay, mommy.” They quickly got their shoes and the baby stroller. They even offered to take the toddler.

Call it mommy wisdom or divine inspiration, but I finally got what I set out to achieve: peace and sisterly friendship.

There is a famous photo on social media of two small children with tears in their eyes huddled together under a oversized t-shirt that reads: “This is our get-along t-shirt.” Though I’m not sure I’d take that route, but I think the sentiment has merit.

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So many times, we moms think that when our children are fighting we should separate them. We assume that the further they are apart, the less they will fight. Not true! In fact, two people who are struggling in any relationship need to figure out the correct way to communicate with each other by practicing.

This requires the investment of time together, even if it means the occasional (or sometimes constant) squabbling.

I’m a firm believer that siblings will eventually be some of our best assets in life. They know where we came from and how we got to where we are. They know how we were raised intimately. They can identify in ways that no one else in the world will ever be able to identify with us. For most of us, the sibling relationship is the longest relationship we will ever have. It will last longer than the relationship with our parents, who will leave this earth long before us, or our spouse, who enter our lives long after our siblings usually do.

I remember one time my sister and I were driving down the road when I saw a landmark where we had experienced something as a family. “Do you remember when…” I started, but before I even started to say what happened, she answered, “Yes.” I didn’t have to finish the thought. That was the end of the conversation. My sister knows me because we’ve spent so much time together. We don’t even need words sometimes.

Maybe you didn’t have a great sibling relationship, maybe your interactions with your sibling were even painful. Maybe they still are. You don’t have to let history repeat itself! Today, you can choose to be an active participant in making sure that your children experience the joy of a sibling friendship.

In order to do so, pay attention to what causes your children to fight. Do they fight more after a certain friend comes to play? Try limiting their interactions with that specific friend. Are they watching television shows where the siblings are constantly at odds? Consider finding some sibling-friendly alternatives. Are they bored, hungry or tired? Have they just experienced a major transition such as a move, the birth of a new baby, or a divorce? These things can make anyone a little cranky!

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Your children will fight. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some adversity is a necessary part of the growth process, it strengthens us as individuals, but constantly being at war with each other can etch away at a potentially beneficial relationship. Every good mom deals with their own variety of sibling rivalry, but it is how we handle their natural tendency to snap at each other that counts.

When my children returned from their walk, they were chatty happily. I don’t know what happened in the 20 minutes they were gone, but they had forgotten their problems with each other and were reminded of the sweetness of sibling fellowship. It was a win/win. I got some chores done and their got their attitudes straight!

The way you handle your children might look different than mine, but making serious steps to nourishing the connection that your children have with each other is essential. It is one that can be easily overlooked when you are dealing with the urgent call of putting out the fire of a disagreement. Many times we have to think on our feet as we try to figure out a way to get them to connect despite their own emotions (not to mention our own!). Sometimes it might be best to wait until everyone has had a little time to calm down before reconnecting. Whatever your method, don’t give up. Remember that mostly likely another fight is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Navigating the waters between siblings is a marathon, not a sprint. Eventually all your groundwork will payoff as you see them into adulthood as friends instead of enemies!

 

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