Often, the dreams of having a large family can be squashed by the constant sounds of sibling bickering. Seems like you cant go anywhere with your family, or walk in a room where the kids are congregated together without immediately having to arm yourself with a referee shirt and whistle. And let’s be honest, moderating irrational arguments between siblings can be not just exhausting, but completely frustrating as well.
Unfortunately, it is often the older sibling belittling the younger sibling that causes the most strife. Naturally, older brothers and sisters are born in with the bossy gene, which makes them a shoe in for being an absolute and constant annoyance to their younger siblings. They think that the little folks should follow THEIR directions and THEIR rules. Quite often the bickering seems more like bullying and parents feel compelled to step in and take control of the situation, worrying that the younger family members will be irreparably damaged by the haunts and negative verbal slaughter older siblings tend to dish out.
The question of course is, when should parents ‘step in‘ and help and when should they allow the siblings to work things out on their own? Many parents are looking for tips for dealing with sibling bickering in the home. Various studies have shown that children in households with multiple kids tend to develop social skills more quickly, learn how to stand up for themselves in life, and acquire better communicative skills than those without brothers and sisters. Seems like all that bartering for mom and dad’s attention, and the last piece of friend chicken teach kids a thing a two about how to be successful and get what they want in life. Yet at the same time, growing up with an older sibling is constantly berating or belittling a younger sibling can also hurt self-confidence.
Sibling rivalries and bickering, while normal parts of the family life are most often caused because by jealousy. One kid may feel like the other kid is getting ‘more.’ And it really doesn’t matter what that more is. It could be more attention, more love, more toys, more praise. Older kids especially can feel kicked to the curb when a younger sibling arrives on the scene, and may feel like the parents are favoring the younger one. Obviously, an older child doesn’t understand that a younger child or toddler may need more attention or assistance than they do. And the bickering and jealousy may just be a result of them being jealous. As a parent, if the bickering and rivalry seems to be getting worse, you may want to take a time out and see if you are contributing to the problem. Set aside some time to spend with each child independently, and make sure that you don’t overlook the needs of your older child just because there aren’t diapers to change and bottles to prepare. In fact, by giving your older kids some individualized ‘big kid’ attention and doing things with them that you cannot easily do with the younger ones (like going out to a movie, or going for ice cream), you can be sure your older child feels that they are getting equalized attention.
Beyond trying to be as fair as you possibly can with your children you also have to realize that your children will always (ALWAYS) find fault with what you do especially as it pertains to fairness. That’s quite simply because they are kids.
That being said, it is important to know when to step in. If you feel that your child is affecting a sibling’s self-confidence, and sense of security than letting them figure things out on their own is NOT a good idea. Older siblings can be especially hurtful in their teasing, and the words they say can remain hurtful for a long time to come. Additionally, when it comes to physical violence parents should step in immediately. Sibling fights and arguments can quickly escalate and nobody should be victimized in their own home by a family member. Saying things like, ‘you had that coming,’ or ‘maybe that will teach you,’ will only make resorting to violence an acceptable resource, which as you know is not effective or acceptable in the real world.
Parents also need to hold ALL children accountable for their behaviors. If one child is being annoying because they know they can get away with it, or get a brother in sister in trouble just by yelling ‘wolf,’ they need to be taught that this is not going to work. Younger siblings especially learn early in life that if they scream or holler or cry that their older brothers and sisters will immediately get chastised. Similarly, older children need to be responsible for their actions towards others.
One good way to look at things is this. If the bickering in your home was going on between your child and a friend how would you handle it? Chances are you wouldn’t let things escalate to the point of violence or harsh words? The same is true in the home. Since parents become accustomed to sibling fighting, they often become immune to it and just believe it is part of growing up. However, if one child is bullying another it is important that you hold them responsible for their behavior, and ignore their manipulative cries that you are playing favorites.
Setting boundaries, guidelines, and rules is also important. Having children of differing ages, obviously means that the kids have different needs. While a 6 year old may not understand an 11 year olds desire for privacy it is important that YOU do and that you put in place rules that the 6 year old needs to abide by. Additionally, allow children to have their own autonomy and belongings. Sharing can be a wonderful thing, but forcing your child to share everything all the time, is a breeding ground for sibling rivalry. Make sure you teach your children that they need to treat their siblings with respect and ask before touching their things, just like they would do a friend.
If your kids are simply arguing for the sake of arguing it is definitely okay at times to allow them to work things out themselves. In fact, this can be healthy. In the beginning, you may have to teach your children how to ask for, debate with and eventually get what they want out of their sibling relationships. Generally speaking, however, there is nothing wrong with letting your kids work out the small things on their own. This also helps you bow out of constantly being a referee. The insignificant arguments like who gets to sit shot gun, or which TV show to watch, or who gets the last Pop-Tart, are really not worth wasting your time and energy. In these types of scenarios your older and younger children learn some pretty awesome life skills that will help them get far socially in this world.