If nothing else, school holidays highlight the relationship your children have with each other. One moment your home is a vision of harmony, co-operation, consideration and laughter. Seconds later you are hiding under the kitchen bench as the high-pitched screaming begins and missiles are lobbed from one side of the room and back again.
Beyond the mother and father relationship, the closest bond a child forms is with their siblings. And while it may take several decades to discover that there is actually little in common – early childhood is dominated by the people who share, if not a bedroom, at least a house, toys, and importantly, parents.
Siblings are the world writ small. As children grow and learn, they grow and learn with their siblings. And how to get on with others is like learning to roller-skate, in the beginning things can be pretty shaky and uncontrolled. There are tumbles and grazes but over time, everyone gets a bit better, a bit more balanced and more confident. What exactly that length of time is cannot be measured but eventually they work it out. Or leave home.
5 Ways to diffuse sibling tensions
1) Don’t Interfere
It seems counter-intuitive, however children who are not left to work out how to resolve disputes grow into adults who struggle with things like negotiation and compromise. If things keep ramping up, only step in to help resolution (see number 2 below), think of yourself as the United Nations, not the US Special Forces. Also let your children know that if they can’t work something out, they can get an adult to help them. This helps them understand that conflict is not necessarily bad, sometimes needs help, and that resolution is the end-game.
2) Hold all parties responsible
Children need to learn that responsibility lies with everyone, arguments don’t start all by themselves – by their very nature, they require two or more participants. Avoid portioning blame and try to work out what everyone wants (the same toy, a turn, to be left alone) and work out how everyone can have what they want. Some children take longer to learn things, such as sharing, than others. It’s a safe bet to say that a child who gets into trouble each time they don’t share, will find it difficult becoming a generous person. By showing them how listening to the problem and helping to think of ways to solve the problem, children will learn that each person can be a valuable part of the resolution.
3) Keep them busy
A change in environment – everyone outside, or a change in activity can re-set some harmony. By enlisting some or all children in a task – raking the path, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the chickens, anything really, you can distract them from the current skirmish and get some jobs done at the same time. Sometimes bickering is the result of pent up energy so a bike ride or a trip to the park or beach can give everyone a purpose, some sunshine and ensure an early night.
4) Confuse them
Children can become very focused on an issue, with everybody digging their heels in further and further. Conversely, they are easily distracted. By reacting in a completely unpredictable way, you can have them thinking about an entirely different topic in seconds. If you usually shout at everyone to STOP, try ignoring the bickering and asking if anyone has seen the massive spider in the bathroom (it’s not important that there isn’t a spider in the bathroom, as long as everyone’s attention has been diverted). Humour helps, but even a random offer of food can startle them out of a head-lock – “who wants ice-cream?”
5) Good Behavior Bonds
This is a long-term strategy that works best in the school holidays. First you need to find an activity that everyone will be keen to do. A visit to a fun park, pony rides, a sleepover. Then you plan the activity for the very end of the holiday. You are then able to make it very clear from the very beginning that the event will only happen if there is no bickering, all chores are done without complaint and rooms are kept tidy. Brilliant in it’s simplicity, it is effective and gives everyone a common goal – and you can put the referees whistle away.
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