The key to fostering a harmonious sibling relationship lies in understanding the dynamics at play and adopting a more proactive and empowering approach.
Before I share with you steps to stop sibling fighting, let’s look at a few unintentional mistakes that worsen sibling fighting.
If you’ve been doing any of these, know you’re not alone. These are the common mainstream ways we’ve been told to respond to sibling rivalry. Starting with what’s not working empowers us to see it’s not you or your kids causing the sibling fighting. It’s the methods we’ve been told to follow that are failing us.
Punishments and telling off.
Ditching punishments and tellings off is a game-changer. We often believe they’ll motivate our kids to shape up and change their behaviour or act as a deterrent next time. But truth is, kids aren’t thrilled about fighting either. They lack the skills, not the will. It’s a crucial reminder: no amount of punishment will magically teach them the skills to manage their own behaviour. It’s about skill-building, not consequence-fearing.
Punishments and tellings-off stir up resentment and blame among siblings. Instead of resolving conflicts, they fuel a cycle of retaliation, making siblings view each other as adversaries. Traditional discipline turns siblings into rivals, not allies, perpetuating conflict without addressing its root causes. These approaches don’t equip kids with problem-solving skills and keep us stuck in repeated behaviour. They also create blame games, hindering accountability and cooperation between siblings.
Recognising these downsides allows us to shift towards constructive approaches, empowering children to manage emotions, communicate effectively, and build resilient sibling relationships.
The Pitfalls of over reliance on separation:
In the quest to manage sibling disagreements, a common fallback is frequent separation. While it may seem like a temporary solution, relying on separation has its own set of pitfalls:
Separating siblings each time conflict arises doesn’t equip them with the skills to navigate disagreements independently.This over reliance on physical separation may inadvertently teach avoidance as a coping mechanism, limiting the development of effective conflict resolution strategies. If separation becomes the go-to strategy, children may grow dependent on us to step in to manage their conflicts, rather than developing internal tools for resolving disputes.
This continuous separation can hinder the natural development of essential conflict resolution skills. Siblings need opportunities to learn how to communicate, negotiate, and compromise, and constant separation denies them the chance to develop these crucial life skills.
Every disagreement is an opportunity for learning and growth. Overusing separation denies siblings the chance to understand each other’s perspectives and work towards resolution. It inadvertently sends the message that avoiding conflict is preferable to addressing and learning from it.
Recognising the limitations of over reliance on separation encourages us to explore more proactive and skill-building approaches. Instead of simply keeping siblings apart, fostering an environment that supports healthy communication and teaches effective conflict resolution can lead to more sustainable and beneficial outcomes in the long run.
The Dangers of Labelling as Instigator or Victim:
Assigning roles of instigator and victim in sibling conflicts can inadvertently contribute to cycles of negative behaviour. This labelling dynamic comes with its own set of challenges.
Labelling one as the troublemaker and the other as the victim locks in negative behaviour. These assigned roles don’t help; they just stick to the same old negative patterns. Because when one child is always called the troublemaker and the other the victim, it messes with how they see themselves. Kids take in these labels, thinking that’s who they are.
In the Language of Listening® approach, there’s a crucial understanding that children act according to who they believe they are. If a child is repeatedly told they are unkind or a troublemaker, they internalise these labels, shaping their actions and potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children tend to believe the messages they receive from trusted adults. Consistently labelling a child can embed negative beliefs in their self-concept, influencing not only their behaviour with their siblings but also how they perceive themselves in various situations.
By recognising the potential harm in assigning fixed roles, we can start to change our language to help our children see the best in themselves.
What Children Need to Overcome Sibling Rivalry.
To break free from the cycle of sibling fighting, adopting the Language of Listening® approach can be transformative.
By applying Language of Listening tools, you can create an environment that goes beyond conflict resolution. It becomes a platform for personal growth, effective communication, and the development of strong, respectful relationships not just among siblings but for all future relationships too.
This method is all about becoming a life coach for your child, providing them with the skills and awareness needed to manage their own behaviour. The focus is on three core areas:
Model Respectful Communication:
Demonstrate the power of positive communication by using SWYS (Say What You See).
This tool helps you understand you child’s perspective first, fostering an environment of mutual understanding and respect. When we model what it looks like to see another person’s perspective even when it’s different from ours, we give our kids the tools to do that with their siblings too.
So often we respond to situations from our point of view and our child responds from their point of view. Using Say What You See get you and all your children agreeing to what IS happening in the moment.
Let’s look at an example:
“Say What You See®” (SWYS): Parent: “Looks like you both really want to play with the toy. It seems like there’s a disagreement about who had it first.” Or “You wish you could have your own space; you want to play without your sister messing up your things. AND your sister misses you when you’re at school, she really wants to play with you.”
In these examples, you start by stating what you observe without judgement. By using “Say What You See,” you can acknowledge the feelings and perspectives of both children. Getting your kids heard, validated and understood and to understanding where each other is coming from is the first step. Once they feel seen and understood, they’re way more open to your guidance, where you can then arm them with solid communication and problem-solving skills.
Fostering Cooperation with CAN DOs:
Traditionally, when it comes to setting boundaries, the focus has been on controlling others. We resort to rewards, bribes, or punishments, inadvertently teaching our kids that hold personal boundaries means someone else has to lose or feel controlled. No wonder there’s so much sibling fighting! Each child doesn’t want to lose!
In Language of Listening, we flip the script on boundaries. We bring in the CAN DO tool and ask a different question: “What can you do to get what you want while still respecting each other’s boundary?” This way, it’s not about winners or losers; both sides find a way to get what they want in an agreeable way.- this is the win-win in parenting and when you master CAN DOs, you’ll see a massive change in cooperation and far less arguments and stress for the whole family.
That because, CAN Dos encourage a sense of capability and cooperation. This tool empowers your child by promoting a collaborative atmosphere where they can work together towards common goals. It’s all about creating an environment where disagreements are tackled with the aim of both sides understanding each other.
Here’s a quick simple CAN DO example: “You both want to play with the same toy. There must be something you CAN DO to both have a turn.” or ‘It looks like Jake wants space AND Sarah, you missed Jake when he’s at school, you want to play together! Oh you both want different things! hmmm must be something you CAN DO to figure something out that works for you both.”
To begin with you may have to offer solutions, but your end goal is to support your child to find solutions that work for them both. You will also have to help your child navigate big emotions like disappointments and frustrations.
Bringing out the best in our children by using STRENGTHs:
Boost your kids’ confidence and sibling harmony by using the STRENGTH tool. Find and appreciate each child’s unique qualities—it’s not just a self-esteem boost but also a game-changer for changing your child’s behaviour.
Your child needs YOU to see their greatness even before they fully get it themselves. For them to be able to change their behaviour, they need to view themselves as problem-solvers, team players, and expert negotiators. They need to know how to get what they want, know how to communicate clearly, know how to manage feelings of disappointment and frustrations… If these skills aren’t mastered, then sibling squabbles are practically guaranteed.
Kids thrive through success, and they’ve got to see themselves as capable problem-solvers with heaps of opportunities to see themselves in this way. Invest time in bringing out the best in your kids and you’ll soon notice their actions mirroring how they see themselves.
Transforming sibling rivalry into a supportive and nurturing relationship requires a shift in perspective and approach. Moving away from punitive measures and embracing the role of a supportive life coach enables children to develop essential life skills.
By focusing on relationship building, boundaries and self-control, and mediation skills, parents can guide their children toward a more harmonious sibling dynamic. It’s not about suppressing conflict but rather empowering children to navigate and grow from these experiences, laying the foundation for lifelong bonds.
Want more support implementing these tools into your family life? Downloadable booklets with hundreds of examples of what to say to your child in everyday situations. So effective that you’ll see your child’s behaviour change like magic and often issues are solved in moments. You’ll have hundreds of Say What You See, CAN DOs and STRENGTHs examples straight to your inbox.
And if you want more tailored support, you’re in the right place! Come see what’s it like to work with me Think of me as your parenting guide, supporting you and your family, giving you the tools and insights to feel empowered as a parent, so that you can start to enjoy family life again.