By Lisa Lombardi
When your kids practically come to blows over which one got more cream cheese on their bagel, you know you’ve got a serious case of sibling rivalry. It’s likely you also know that there’s no avoiding it. “The only way to prevent sibling rivalry is to only have one child or to space kids 18 years apart,” says John Rosemond, author of The New! Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children (Andrews McMeel Publishing). But while you may not be able to keep the peace between your kids, there are things you can do to squash the squabbling.
Be Switzerland Resist the urge to rush in, because “when you intervene, you’re likely to identify one child as the villain and one as the victim,” says Rosemond. The obvious problem: It takes two to squabble, and you may be unfairly maligning one kid. The not-so-obvious problem: You’re creating a dynamic that will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If that victim gets attention for being a victim, he’s going to continue to elicit that villain behavior from his brother or sister,” Rosemond says. Instead, let them work out squabbles themselves. (Note: If your younger child is 3-years-old or under or you sense either child is in physical danger, by all means play ref.)
Don’t comparesiblings to each another You probably know not to say, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” But it’s a common mistake to compare kids in even more subtle ways: “Julie, look at how nicely your brother is playing with those puzzles.” It’s fine to praise one child’s unique skills; just make sure you don’t have a hidden agenda — like getting Julie to stop hurling puzzle pieces across the room.
Be a supermodel You and your spouse provide a powerful example of how two family members should speak to each other. “If the kids see you arguing and calling each other names, it’s hard to get across the message ‘We don’t do that in this family,’”says Rosemond. So play nice with your spouse, and who knows? You just might hear less bickering from the playroom.
Give each kid space You know the famous line by Robert Frost about how fences make good neighbors? Well, imaginary lines (in the car, in a shared bedroom and so on) make good siblings. To avoid turf wars, “the ideal situation is for each child to have his own clearly defined space,” says Rosemond. If you can’t spare a bedroom, give each child his own desk or toy chest in the communal space.
Don’t insist on shared playdates Sure, it would be easy if your 7-year-old could take your 4-year-old under her wing whenever she has a pal over. But asking older kids to always include younger ones on playdates and fun outings can create serious resentment. Giving older kids private time with their friends will make them more likely to play nicely with their siblings when nobody else is around.