By Amy McCready, TODAY Moms contributor
While most kids count down the days left until summer vacation, parents are often counting down the days until school starts again. If the extra family closeness of summer vacation has ramped up the squabbles and fits of sibling rivalry in your home, these tips can help restore harmony to your children’s relationships with each other.
1. Invest in one-on-one time.
You’ve just answered the phone or started a conversation with your spouse when a disagreement explodes in the playroom. This may seem like just an argument between siblings, but it’s likely your child trying to get your attention. The best way to reduce sibling rivalry is to make sure your children get the positive, one-on-one time with you that they need. It’s as simple as spending 10 to 15 minutes a day with each child, doing an activity they choose. When kids get the positive attention they need, they’re less likely to seek it out in negative ways.
2. Lose the labels.
When we give our children labels by referring to them as “the shy one” or “my athletic one,” for example, we may be fueling competition between our kids. Knowing that Mom calls little sister “the wild one” may make big brother feel superior, as he must be the well-behaved child. Similarly, if Dad refers to Emma as “my A-plus student,” Jake may feel less important if he’s carrying a B average. Recognize that your kids are individuals and avoid comparing them.
3. Recognize the feelings.
Try to understand how your child feels while in the midst of a sibling scuffle, and help them recognize those emotions and how to deal with them. In calm moments, talk about anger, jealousy and resentment and give them tips to work through those feelings. Encourage kids to start their sentences with “I feel,” rather than laying blame. Try role-playing more constructive ways to handle typical squabbles. Let them know that having those feelings is OK, but how they react to them may not be.
4. Just say no to tattling.
In a calm moment, talk with your kids about the difference between tattling — which is trying to get someone else in trouble — and informing or reporting, which is letting a grown-up know that someone’s hurt or in danger. Then let them know that you don’t respond to tattles, but you want to know if someone needs help. If your son comes to you with a tattle, ask if he’s trying to get his sister in trouble or if he’s trying to help her. If he wants to help, you can brainstorm ways with him on how he can solve the problem to help his sister.
5. Hang up the referee whistle.
When parents step in to break up a sibling showdown, they do so thinking it will stop the fight. But when a parent comes in and rules in favor of one child, it creates a winner and a loser — fueling the flames of sibling rivalry. Avoid picking sides and be a mediator instead of judge. Help kids come up with their own solution that both sides can feel good about. That will equip them to resolve conflicts not only with their siblings in the days and weeks to come, but in personal and professional relationships as they grow older.
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