I remember a huge fight my twin daughters had when they were 5 or 6 years old. It was part screaming match, part WWE Smackdown. While it was hard to see the intensity of their emotion (although not unusual for them), it was especially unnerving to see the physical intensity. As parents, this was a challenge that prompted us to take further action.
In part 1 of Helping Your Kids Get Along: A Dad’s Guide, I talked about four ways to model and teach healthy relationship skills. These strategies are valuable to de-escalate or even prevent things from getting heated in your home.
This week, I offer six more ideas to help kids get along. As dads, we have a big part to play in establishing the relationship ‘atmosphere’ in our home. The more you can embrace healthy relationship skills, model, and reinforce them – the more you’ll see your children respond.
1. Establish ground rules and communicate them consistently
What are the expectations for when people get upset in your home? How are family members to speak to each other? What happens when a family member does something outside of the expectations?
These may be simplistic questions, but often our family norms are unspoken and just happen. We do what our parents did, which may or may not have been effective.
Taking the time to establish clear ground rules for behavior that creates respect is important. I especially like an example I heard from author and speaker Andy Stanley on his podcast. He shared that in their house, they had only one rule: “Honour each other at all times.” Of course, making it clear what the definition of ‘honour’ meant was critical to their success in applying this in their family.
I liked this example because it was simple and easy to remember. It also caused their children to reflect. Did my choice honour the other person? It also made it very clear when evaluating behavior. Was that behavior honouring to the other person?
The most important point is this – create and communicate ground rules for how your children (and family) gets along. Make it simple and easy to remember. And as referenced in part 1 – repeat them often.
2. Use every opportunity to affirm when they get along/show kindness/solve their own problems
We recently got a puppy in our house. It’s the first dog I’ve owned and part of the experience is learning how to train him. As I now know, puppies learn best from rewards in the form of treats. Whatever behavior we want to see, we need to train, provide rewards and follow-up with ‘good boy’ to reinforce when it happens.
Having kids is a lot like that. The problem is (and as I’ve written about before), we can get so focused on correcting bad behaviour. What we miss by focusing on correction is the opportunity to ‘reward’ the good behavior and positive attributes of our children.
Whenever your kids are getting along it’s easy to forget to acknowledge it (you’re probably also enjoying the break). But taking the opportunity to tell them what you see is a way to reward and reinforce good behavior. It can sound like this:
- “The way you shared with your brother was so kind. Thank you for doing that!”
- “I heard you work well with your sister even though you disagreed. It’s great to see you cooperating even when it feels hard!”
- “I appreciate how patient you are with your little brother. I know he can be frustrating at times, so keep that up. You’re a great big brother.”
- “I’m proud of how you spoke to your mom in that conversation. You showed her a lot of respect.”
3. Never compare your children to each other or any other child
“Why can’t you just sit at the table like your sister?”
We may think this motivates children, but what they hear is that her sister is better and you love her more because she sits at the table. No matter what your intent is, comparing children always backfires.
As I tell my coaching clients when they start to compare themselves to others, “Comparison is a trap!”
In my coaching example – people are usually “stuck” because they are looking negatively at themselves and more positively at the other person. In other words, they think “I’m not good enough,” or “I need to be better.”
I’ve heard it said that, ‘how you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.’ As dads, I know you don’t want your child’s inner voice to say, “Dad thinks my sister is better and he loves he more.” To make sure that doesn’t happen, never compare.
4. Create opportunities to help them be a team
We call ourselves “Team Soleyn” on a regular basis at home. It’s often lighthearted and jokingly, but it’s also an intentional choice. We want our kids to think of themselves as important parts of our family – just like every member of a team. This means they each have a unique role and contribution to make. We also talk about what it means to be a good team member and how it helps everyone achieve more when they all contribute.
No matter what your family situation presents, there are ways you can create opportunities for your kids to be a team. Here are a couple examples, but I encourage you to find what works best for your situation.
- Get board games that focus on teamwork to succeed (one of our favorites is Hoot Owl Hoot)
- Give your kids a team ‘assignment’ and reward them when it’s completed (make the reward really appealing)
- Create a family project and work together to complete it (our current project is a backyard rink for the winter)
- Tell your kids you will reward them every time they work together without fighting. This could be a ‘cooperation jar’ that gets a dollar every time they cooperate. At the end of the month, they get to decide together how to spend the money
5. Give them opportunities for individual / personal time and their own space
The foundation of building good relationships is creating connection. It’s very difficult to create connection when kids feel like they have to share you, their toys, their space, family time, and your attention.
Set aside time for each child to have your undivided attention each day. Many experts recommend at least 10 minutes a day of one-on-one time per child, allowing them to direct the activity (ideally not screen or electronics related). This is a great way to provide children with your reassurance and affirmation, or ask questions to learn more about them (i.e. put away your phone and only focus on your child).
Even when kids share the same room, having a designate private space that is just their own can be important. Examples can include:
- A personalized storage box where they keep their own toys or special keepsakes
- A ‘tent’ bed to be alone when they want to be
- Even designating hooks with their name or separate dressers / dresser drawers for their own things can help
- Some have even gone so far as to put a line down the middle of the room so each child has their boundaries marked out
6. Express your love and build your relationship with each child
Investing in personal time and space is valuable, but using every opportunity to express your love and grow your relationship with each child is like fertilizing a plant. It can only grow stronger as a result. And in this case, you can never over fertilize!
Children thrive when they know they are loved and cared for by their parent(s). If your child has any doubts, or feels like you love them any less than their sibling, there is bound to be jealousy. You counteract that by repeatedly expressing your love, and showing them with your actions.
I have learned to connect with my children through laughter and play. I’ve also learned that each child has unique needs, and the more I respond to them based on these, the better I do. Finding ways to listen more, understand and empathize have also helped. Finally, learning to guide and coach rather than punish have all added up to kids who are happier and healthier – helping everyone get along much better.
Sibling fighting can be exhausting to deal with, but you can help keep things calmer in your house. By investing time and attention into the proactive strategies in this guide, you will help tame the tension and build positive relationships in the entire family.
Remember dads, you matter. So does your influence to help your kids get along!
Here is a list of additional resources to help kids get along.
List of children’s books about relationships, emotions or parents love:
I Am Stronger Than Anger
Tractor Mac: Teamwork
The Hard Hat
Kindness is my Superpower
Bucket Filling A to Z: The Key to Being Happy
I Love you the Purplest
Just Me and My Little Brother
Papa, Do You Love Me?
Big Sister and Little Sister
Books and articles for parents about sibling fighting:
Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life – Book by Dr. Laura Markham
How to Intervene in a Sibling Fight – Aha Parenting Blog
Raising kids who actually get along – Huffington Post Article
Sibling Rivalry: Helping your children get along – Mayo Clinic Article