A war is always waging at my house.
Sometimes my warriors use subtle weapons that inflict superficial wounds. Other times, the combatants whip out their swords and eagerly draw blood.
Sibling rivalry. It’s a battle that’s been brewing since Cain and Abel.
It has driven me to the brink of insanity and at times broken my heart. Sometime, long, long ago, I actually believed siblings were naturally inclined to show love to each other. Poor, sad, silly naïve parent that I was, I foolishly believed that it would somehow be programmed into their DNA.
After 10 years of watching my very own family version of Celebrity Boxing, I believe I just might be on the verge of the turning the tide in the sibling rivalry battle – or at least making significant advances.
Here’s an epiphany I had recently: Behaviors only continue when they’re rewarded.
Now I certainly have had that head knowledge for years. But I haven't always put it into action.
Melissa from Confessions of a Dr. Mom wrote about this subject recently and it inspired me to be even more deliberate about robbing my kids of the thrill of their sibling battles.
Why do our kids battle in the first place? Well, there are probably many reasons, but here are a few reasons I believe kids go for the jugular:
1.) To get our attention. Negative attention is better than no attention, right? If it works, they're going to give us repeat performances.
2.) To answer the question, “Do you love me?” How many times do you hear, “You love him more! You always take his side!”
3.) To make them feel better about themselves. Isn't it human nature to put someone else down to elevate yourself?
I don’t have all the answers (please!), but after a decade of watching the verbal bullets fly, I’ve certainly learned what doesn’t work. And I’m trying some new strategies to achieve a ceasefire:
1.) Focus on their positives. I’ve been more concious of building up each kid and complementing their unique strengths, talents and character qualities.
2.) I’ve quit engaging. For years, I’ve listened to both kids explain why they “didn’t do anything” and how “He started it!” or “She started it!” What was I thinking? Big mistake. I’m often not in the room when it starts. And I don't have the wisdom of Solomon. So, my new strategy is: "If you’re fighting and unable to resolve it, you both lose privileges. And I don’t want to hear you plead your case. Queen Mom has issued her ruling. It is not up for appeal.”
3.) I’ve been trying to be more consistent. Our kids will probably never believe we're being completely fair. A part of them will always believe that the other sibling or siblings always gets away with more. The fact is, our children have different personalities, so we’re not going to always treat them or discipline them exactly the same. And we shouldn't. However, I’ve found that when I’m consistent and reasonable in how I parent them -- even if they don't always like it or agree -- they're generally more cooperative and it does diffuse some of the sibling friction.
Believe it or not, this battle-weary mama is actually beginning to have hope that perhaps the war won't wage on forever.
How do you handle sibling rivalry in your family?