Updated: Jul 6
Are your kids always fighting, arguing, and let's just say it's driving you nuts!
Here is an article I wrote based on the works of Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott's Positive Discipline Program.
I was not the only child from my mother however, I pretty much grew up as one. There's a 16-year gap between my older brother and me. As a child, I don't remember fighting much with him, but I do remember pretty much always getting my way.
Now as a mother of three children myself, I really understand how triggering sibling rivalry can be. Even as a former classroom teacher who made a career around problem-solving with children, I still found listening to my children argue very frustrating. I always imagined my children would just get along and play together as the siblings did on all my favorite sitcoms. (Yeah right!).
When I became a Positive Discipline Classroom & Parent Educator I very soon realized how my role as a parent permitted much of my children's behavior.
Why birthing Order Matters
If you’re a parent of multiples understanding the birthing order of your children will help give a better understanding of how children can develop misinterpretations about themselves. Being in a family is almost like a play… we all have our roles and each part has a specific characteristic.
Now whilst it may not always be true, most children do believe that they have to be different from their siblings in order to be significant…Children can perceive very well but they do struggle to interpret well.
Keep in mind learning about birthing order is not to be used to stereotype people, but to increase our knowledge of self and our children to be more effective in our relationships.
Oldest/only Child (depending on either having lots of responsibility)
Here are some characteristics of the oldest:
Critical (of themselves/others)
They often develop the idea that they have to be first or the best to be important.
2. Youngest/only child (based on being pampered)
Here are some characteristics of the youngest:
They believe that they have to manipulate others into their service in order to be important… they sometimes also play the weird position of being favored by parents and resented by their siblings… the greatest disadvantage is also the belief that life is unfair when they don’t get their way..and believe that they only feel love when others take care of them. On the flip done may feel like they have to be overachievers to “catch up with the other children”
3. Middle Child/children
Here are some characteristics of the middle:
They don’t have the privilege of the oldest or the benefits of the youngest…
They have to be different in order to be important
They either overachieve or underachieve
Social butterflies or very shy
Rebel with a cause or just a rebel
They identify with the underdogs
Keep in mind these are generalized characteristics and are just to help us understand our children's perspectives in relation to their birthing order.
Also, be aware that the family atmosphere will be the determining factor in either increasing or decreasing the conflicts between siblings. For example, if the family is a competitive family differences between children will increase… or in a family where cooperation is valued differences between children will decrease. A general rule is when the parents agree on a parenting method differences are decreased vs. when they disagree on how to discipline the children differences are increased.
As parents, it can be easy to compare two children. (Even if it's not on purpose) Competition can be healthy, but between siblings, it can do more damage than good. We want to stay away from rewards, but also make sure we celebrate their individual achievements. We also want to make sure that we avoid making one child the victim and the other the bully. Treat all the children the same. This means the older child shouldn't always "know better" and the youngest child isn't always the victim.
How Sibling Conflict teaches Life skills
Making the transition to positive discipline requires going beyond strategies, but leaning more into a mind shift change. The first shift is reframing the way we view conflict. Most people tend to want to avoid conflict and view conflict as always negative. However even in nature siblings fight, tussle, and taunt each other as regular play. It is nature's way to help teach the necessary life skills needed for defense and hunting.
Now if we think of this same scenario in relation to siblings... what are some of the benefits of sibling conflict?
Every time they argue over a toy reframe from bickering to learning to negotiating or having to take turns. When they yell back and forth reframe that to standing up for themselves. I think most parents would prefer their children to learn these lessons in peace, but know that learning in chaos is still very valid.
If you're familiar with my Instagram page @no_perfect_parents you know I'm very big on taking the time for training children. Remember we are not going to do this during the actual incident when children are on ten and emotions are running high. Instead in moments when things are going well and they are getting along go over some of these basic but very helpful tools.
- Are my words helpful or harmful? Teaching about how words can make people feel may seem like a big skill but can be taught from an early and built upon as children get older.
- Understanding the meaning of "no". Again depending on the age of the children, this may be hard to grasp, but always reminding children that no, means no (even with adults) is also key.
- Leading with empathy. Teach children to use their words and understand their feelings are usually hurt as to why they feel the need to hurt others.
What can I do to make it stop?
We are at the part of the article where you're expected to get some insight as to how you can get those children to literally stop arguing, and get the secret sauce to the Krabby Patty Formula. (You know you're a mom when you quote SpongeBob)
But did you know that many times WE are the cause of the sibling rivalry? Think about it like this...if we've taken the time to train our kids, and we've taken the time to eliminate competition between them, then maybe it's time to literally take a step back. I'll explain a bit further. As parents, we always want to referee conflicts between children. Instead, try these 3 B's.
Beat It- Leave the scene
Here you can acknowledge that they are having an issue, but do not get involved.
You can say: (Get down to their eye level) "I see you guys are having an issue, but I trust that you can work it out. I'm going to go back to _____. Please let me know when you're done with the fighting"
Bear It- Stay close, but have faith in them to work it out
This one is great for the car... Use the same language as above but instead, you don't leave...but still DO NOT GET INVOLVED!
You can say: "I notice you guys are having an issue, I going to sit here (or pull over if in the car) and _____(insert activity) while you guys come to a solution."
Boot 'em Out- Kids go somewhere else until they are ready to stop fighting
This is great to help YOU catch a break from the yelling and back and forth if this is a trigger for you.
You can say: " I notice you guys are having an issue, and you're more than welcome to disagree, however, we need to pick another place to do this instead of here in the ____" (Then offer someplace else they can go)
Believe it or not many times children fight to gain our attention. As I mentioned above it's very common for parents to swoop in and "save the younger child" and then "Punish" the older child for knowing better. This only further causes conflict because the youngest is learning they can get the parents to rescue them and the oldest is now becoming resentful.
I also wanted to point out before I go a real-life example because many times things are not very cookie cutter. If you are dealing with two small children and the oldest is still a young child (under 5) it can also be helpful to aid the older child first by validating their feelings first. This may seem unconventional.. because we assume the youngest may need our immediate attention.. but if they are already upset and crying a few more minutes will not make a difference (trust me). But validating the oldest child first can help reframe how they view the family dynamic. They are not treated as the bully and the youngest also learns that they are not always the victim.
I'll sign off by saying this is a process that takes time. The more you stay out of conflict the more it teaches children to become little problem solvers. So hang in there and know that practice makes progress!