Family Matters: 5 ways to curb conflicts among siblings
As much as we’d love for everything to be hearts and roses – especially at Valentine’s Day – when you have adolescent boys at home, they’re going to knock heads from time to time.
The same can be said of girls or children of other ages, of course, but it’s particularly true of sons. Wrestling and rough housing seem to be hardwired into their natures.
Our family has experienced its fair share of this lately, and I know from my inbox that other parents are dealing with the same problem. Our kids have been cooped up inside for too long. A few warm, sunshiny days they can spend outdoors running off excess energy will likely work wonders.
When boisterous play turns mean-spirited, however, it needs to be addressed head-on. Otherwise, conflicts escalate and kids go from having occasional squabbles to acting as if they despise one another.
Even then, with lots of prayer, patience, and perseverance, the situation can be turned around. Here are six things to keep in mind as you tackle the problem:
1. Hormones make it harder.
Emotions run high when kids enter puberty. Anytime our family has had an issue with two siblings struggling to get along, either one or both of them has been in that transitional phase. I say this not to justify bad behavior, but to raise awareness of a big contributing factor.
I recommend sitting the offenders down and explaining to them why they suddenly feel so sensitive about things they normally wouldn’t give a second thought. Let them know their hormones will eventually settle down as they adjust to their changing bodies, but in the meantime, they must do their best to show grace and not to purposely provoke one another.
2. Set a good example.
Constant bickering takes a toll on even the steadiest of nerves. Make sure your reaction to the strife isn’t compounding it. Children who are screaming and fighting and out of control don’t need parents who are yelling, cursing, and as out of control as they are. So keep your cool and deal with the conflicts in a calm and rational way.
3. Evaluate peer influences.
Some kids seem to think it’s cool to treat their little brothers and sisters like second class citizens. Make sure your child isn’t learning bad habits from friends who are mean to their siblings (or from TV shows that model such behavior, including many of the programs on Disney Channel).
The rule at our house has always been, if you can’t get along with your family, you can’t play with outside friends at all. Granted, homeschooling makes this easier to enforce, but as much as possible, eliminate time spent with friends who model poor behavior in their own family relationships.
4. Monitor media use.
Keep track of the time your children spend on electronic devices. Studies have shown that the more time a child spends staring at a screen, the unhappier and more irritable he becomes. This is true whether the screen belongs to a computer, television set, iPad, or gaming console — and it undoubtedly contributes to family discord.
Whenever we notice our kids struggling to get along, we immediately restrict access to any digital media not needed for homework. Being dependent on one another as playmates for fun (rather than relying on video programing or games for entertainment) does an amazing job of fostering friendship among brothers and sisters!
5. Replace bad habits with good.
Telling children to “stop being mean to one another” is not enough. Instead, help them replace bad habits with good ones, hateful actions with loving responses, cutting remarks with words of encouragement, disgusted smirks with warm smiles by walking them through and having them practice desired behavior whenever they slip into their old ways.
We’ll sometimes even require siblings who are at odds to generate lists: “10 nice things I can do for (fill in the blank)” or “12 things I love and appreciate about (insert sibling’s name here).” It’s a practical way of applying the command in Philippians 4:8 to set our minds on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.
Rough-housing aside, Jennifer Flanders is happy to report that all twelve of her children are the very best of friends. For more parenting pointers and free printables, visit https://www.flandersfamily.info .