What do you do when you have two or more children who just don’t get along? I mean they really can’t stand each other. They’ll even say to each other that they hate each other? I’ve had many parents over the years ask me how they can help their children love each other or at the very least tolerate each other.
Well, it’s a tough question.
I just want to make two observations about siblings who don’t get along:
First, IT’S NORMAL AND DRAINING on the whole family
Siblings not getting along is very normal and I mean VERY normal. There’s no one in the world who can get in your face more than a sibling can. Whether it’s a younger brother getting into an older brother’s prized Yu-Gi-Oh card collection or an older sister’s jealousy of a younger sister’s popularity at school; they are enough to just really get under a kid’s skin. It creates plenty of whining, screaming and crying for moms and dads to deal with. It can lead to kids declaring that they hate each other and will sabotage every family experience as a result.
- Mooom! She’s in my room! Get her out of here! (followed by lots of yelling and door slamming, maybe a punch or a kick)
- Daaaad! Danny is so stupid! I hate it when he plays games with us! He’s so dumb!
- Mooom! He ate my goodie bag candy! He’s so fat he shouldn’t be allowed to live!
- In my house growing up we’d get mad at a sibling for breathing air
- And it goes on and on….
Next observation, Sibling issues are FULL OF LIFE LESSONS
As adults, in our lifetimes we’ve run into people we don’t like and we’ve had to learn how to get along with them. In your child’s future is an annoying coworker or a demanding and demeaning boss. Our kids need to have opportunities to learn and refine their people skills and siblings are perfect practice targets. They keep coming at you over and over until you get it right. They don’t just go away so there’s a ton of opportunity to practice how to get along! The trick as parents is how to get them to learn these precious life lessons.
That leads me to our next phase – possible solutions! I have three ideas for you to try in your home.
IDEA #1: Set BOUNDARIES using Family Meetings
I grew up in a Christian household and was always reminded of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have done unto you. How did I know this rule? My parents taught it to me. My parents enforced it. It’s a pretty good rule and really boils down to how parents need to set boundaries on behaviors in our households. If your kids are mistreating each other then it’s time to sit everyone down and set up some Family Respect Rules then tackle some specific areas in the same manner.
FIRST MEETING – Set Family Respect Rules
In the very first meeting you’d facilitate a discussion of what the Family Rules around respect and behavior toward each other should be. ASK your kids and spouse for input. It might include things like:
- No one can come in your room without permission
- You must treat each other with respect
- If you can’t talk in a civil tone you cannot talk for 15 minutes
- No one can touch your toys without permission
- If someone isn’t home you still can’t touch their toys without permission
- No calling each other names
You also have to have consequences to go with the new rules. Ask for input on that too. I love choices so I’d try to make sure the kids have choices to choose from. It might look something like… IF ANYONE BREAKS A FAMILY RESPECT RULE, they can choose one of the following:
- Offenders will play the “Love Game”, this is where offending children have to sit and hold hands. Then they say five positive things about each other. Lastly, they hug and forgive each other.
- Offenders will play together for 15 minutes, really play not just watch a movie
- Offenders can do an extra job on Mom’s Job List (you can use my Energy Drain List if you need ideas!)
If you have kids who refuse to sit down for a Family Meeting then you need to set up a consequence for their non-participation. The old: “I allow kids to … go to the movies who’ve participated in our Family Meeting” will come into play. If you need more ideas about setting consequences listen to episode 10.
SECOND MEETING – Tackle Specific Areas of Tension
Once you set up the basic Respect Rules you can move on to the next phase of Family Meetings. Pick one situation where your kids really drive each other crazy and try to clean that up. Take, for instance, driving in the car. Have a family meeting about "How to Have a Peaceful Drive in the Car". You ask for suggestions about what could make the drive calm keeping in mind the new Family Respect Rules. Take any and all suggestions!
Some might wind up being:
· have brother put a sock in his mouth
· sister puts on headphones and listens to music while we drive
· brother plays the license plate game with mom as they drive
· everyone eats popcorn
· sister wears a bag over her head
· brother sits in the middle row and sister sits in the very back of the car (this assumes you have a car that has 3 rows). Sister might be sitting shotgun right now since she's pretty old but maybe moving her to another location can help.
· brother brings books to read in the car and wears headphones to do a read-along with a book
· drive kids separately to school and charge each kid for the driving time ($2 per mile?)
· no talking while we drive, sister picks the music to play in the car one day, brother picks the next day, any complaining and the opposite child gets two days in a row to pick music.
I think you get the idea, make a long list. Have weird things on the list like the bag over the head.
Next, pick a few to TRY for a week. Yep, just TRY. Don't make anything permanent. Keep the full list around.
Next, schedule the NEXT Family Meeting. At that meeting go over if things worked or didn't work. What would they like to keep doing and what would they like to experiment with next week? Change things up, try new things then HAVE ANOTHER MEETING and keep having them each week until this one problem is sufficiently solved. That you can drive in the car peacefully. THEN move on to another area where there is disharmony and do the same with it. Maybe that next area is dinner time? Or maybe getting ready for bed?
Whatever issues are happening it's best to use a format where everyone can communicate and feel they have input to the solution. It helps get buy-in for having the solution work when people feel heard. Listen to Episode 17 if you want some more examples of Family Meetings.
IDEA #2 - Special Time/Connection Time
Each child needs to feel listened to. They need to know they are loved unconditionally. Sometimes sibling strife comes about when they have issues that aren’t being paid attention to. You need to divide and conquer and make sure YOUR connection to each child is solid.
Create some special time for each of your kids who aren’t getting along to be with just one parent at a time. Do something each child likes to do even if it's not your favorite thing. For a teen or tween maybe going for boba tea or Starbucks. For a younger child it might be building Legos or playing Barbies. Just BE with them. Let them relax so you can chat and connect. NO LECTURES! If you need longer connecting time maybe you go paint pottery together or take a hike. Maybe drive to San Francisco to some special event or store? For me, I took my son out for lunch at a casual sit-down place and we played cards. It kept us off our phones and let us just casually chat.
Once you feel you have a solid connection then you can set an intention of a topic that you want to talk about and get feedback on sibling issues. If your relationship is rocky, however, your discussions will always be difficult and you’ll probably be rebuffed so keep your main focus on building that solid relationship foundation.
IDEA #3 - Love Languages
In podcast Episode #33 I interviewed two experts on Love Languages. God made us all different and we all feel loved and valued in different ways but we often go through life having no idea of how the people in our families best feel loved which can lead to a lot of sibling fighting. I can’t recommend enough having each person in your family go through the simple quiz to find out how they feel loved. It can be very powerful in helping kids get along. A daughter might learn that her brother needs to feel love from her in special ways so that he can calm down and be relaxed. Little brother can also learn why big sister likes to have feedback differently than he likes it. In the episode the two women do a really nice job of explaining how it helped their families.
When I write a podcast or blog, I always surf the internet for additional resources. This time I found a really helpful one from Pint-Sized Treasures. Allison Wood is an amazing mom of 6 who explains some more of these ideas including the Love Game I mentioned earlier in her article “What to Do When Your Kids Hate Each Other”. I’m going to put a link to her article in the podcast notes in addition to a link to my Sibling Rivalry podcast episode #9 in case you haven’t had a chance to listen to that.
One last thought, sibling relationships that go sour in adulthood often have their roots in childhood. Make sure you’re not pitting your kids against each other for your love and attention and favoring one child more than another. I grew up in a house with 12 kids who were close together in age. Yep, 12. It is overwhelming to think of the battles that we fought with each other during our years growing up. Our parents were pretty even handed though. One of my older sisters who picked on me constantly helped me to be quick-witted and be able to stand up to people who might verbally try to push me in directions I didn’t want to go. She toughened me up! I hated her at the time for it since she was so mean but once we moved into adulthood, we gradually became very good friends. There is hope for your children who aren’t getting along but you need to steer the ship in the right direction. I hope some of these ideas might work for you. Write me and let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org.