Whenever you face sibling rivalry in your family, you should talk to your children, clearly stating your expectations. Let them know what the limits are, and discuss ways they can control their fighting. “Let Molly know you’re mad without hitting her.” “If you don’t like what your brother’s doing, come tell me and we’ll work it out together.” “You have to include your sister.” If you don’t set limits on rivalry, your children will believe you accept their negative behavior, and it will likely continue.
If you catch them in the middle of an argument, make them sit down and discuss the situation with each other or with you. If necessary, act as a mediator. “Mason doesn’t want you to grab toys from him.” Listen to each child’s side, even if that means putting up with, “You played with it longer!” or “No, I had it first!” After you’ve listened, ask them to come up with a solution: “How can you fix this problem?” Offer a solution yourself, or direct them toward another activity.
Sometimes they’ll have trouble talking about their fights. They know they’re angry, but they don’t know how to explain why. Suggest possible reasons for your child’s dissatisfaction. “Maybe you think Nicole got a better toy than you did.” “You might be mad because Corey got to watch more TV.”
Let your children know that if they persist in arguing, there will be consequences. You already know what will work best, whether it’s taking away (or threatening to take away) privileges or sending your child to a “be nice” chair. Make sure the consequences for misbehavior are appropriate and not too harsh, or you’ll just stir up more resentment. Instead of thinking, “I won’t hit him,” your child may be so angry at his punishment that he’ll think, “I’m never playing with my brother again!”
You may have success by offering your children rewards for getting along, but be prepared to monitor your children closely. While you might see improved behavior, you also might see an increase in tattling or threats. “Ooh, I’m telling on you, and you won’t get a treat from Mom.” You might also find that the novelty wears off, and the rewards gradually become less effective.
Above all, to eliminate rivalry, treat your children fairly. If you tend to reward one child and blame the other, reevaluate your attitudes. When you’re fair and generous with your praise, “Thank you for sharing with your sister,” or “I’m glad you let Billy play with you”, they’ll feel better about themselves and be less likely to argue.
Of course, you can never stop all the bickering. “Shut up!” “Stupid!” and “I hate you!” are standard sibling exchanges. They’re upsetting, but they’re the quick, angry expressions of a sibling relationship. If the bickering is brief, infrequent, and quickly resolved, just accept it. But whenever sibling rivalry moves beyond a few words spoken in haste, step in, set limits, and help your children resolve their differences.