Sibling Rivalry: Tips for Surviving the Summer

Summer break is here, and if your family is like mine, it didn’t take long for the kids to start getting cranky and fighting with each other, stimulating that sibling rivarly. As the long days of summer stretch ahead, do you find yourself wondering how you’ll survive this sibling rivalry until August? Or, more importantly, whether the kids will make it back for the first day of school in one piece?

By: Julia Fazio, LMFT-Associate; Supervised by Billy Lee Myers, Jr, LMFT-S

By: Julia Fazio, LMFT-Associate;
Supervised by Billy Lee Myers, Jr, LMFT-S

I’ve been thinking about some helpful lessons I learned from Susan Stiffelman’s wonderful book Parenting with Presence that might make it easier to negotiate the dog days of summer with your children.

  1. Let tempers cool first. Giving the kids some time to calm down before you address the problem makes it much easier for them to express their perspective on what happened. Make sure this time is not perceived as punishment, but rather as an important time that they need to feel like their best selves.
  2. Congratulate yourself, this is healthy! Children fight because they need to learn something, even if they’d rather not. Fighting teaches them important skills. However, sibling rivalry undermines their healthy relationship. Try to avoid being the judge and instead focus on facilitating. Ask each kid the same question until they manage to come to a resolution. “Why are you upset, Jack? Emma, why are you upset?”
  3. Avoid comparisons. Comparing kids to one another makes them feel unloved and angry, rather than motivated to change their behavior. Comparison might even escalate the fighting. Instead, try to focus on the unique talents of each child using specific praise, like “Wow, you sure are persistent, you have been working on that Lego building all afternoon!”
  4. Be good enough. You don’t need to do a brilliant job every minute of the day. You just need to be good enough. Try to silence those critical voices in your head that are telling you that you aren’t living consciously enough because you yelled at your kids. Give your heart a forgiving pat and start again.
  5. Prevent problems before they happen. Help your children understand their triggers, and the situations that will really upset them or set off an argument. Once they know what situations will lead to disputes, you can help them identify ways to cope or avoid them altogether.
  6. Remember to Breathe. Arguing children can trigger big reactions in parents, especially when the arguing seems to go on all day, every day. It’s important to recognize when you need to step back and take a breath before intervening in a state of high emotion. Even a minute or two of focused deep breathing can calm you down and clear your mind so that you can act versus react to the conflict.

For lots of helpful scenarios written with a great sense of humor, take a look at Sibling without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. And remember, summer will be over before you know it. All the rough spots will smooth over into one happy memory of the time you spent together as a family.