Are the kids fighting again? Here’s something you can do about it that actually works.
Among the most frequently asked questions I receive as a pediatrician and parenting author is this one: How do I make my kids get along?
I get this question most often from parents who didn’t get along with their siblings growing up and want to make sure their kids don’t repeat that behavior. As we get older, we value our sibling relationships more, but it’s hard to maintain a good relationship with your sibling if it was never good in the first place.
While I can’t do much about your relationship history with your siblings, I do have some tips for making sure your own children get along. Harmony in the home might feel impossible right now, but trust me, it is not.
If your children are arguing, fighting, or flat-out at each other’s throats, here are a few things you can do to course-correct:
1. Monitor your own behavior.
The best thing you can do to ensure your children develop healthy relationships with each other is to model respectful, loving speech. Kids usually mimic what they see and hear. If your tone is harsh or your words are demeaning when you speak to other adults or family members, your children will think they can speak to each other in this way.
If your tone is kind and your words are loving, your children will better mimic this with one another. You’ve heard that “more is caught than taught,” and this is especially true with how children treat and talk to each other.
2. Do family activities together.
As your kids grow older, take them to do things together that require fun and cooperation. Camping is a great example of an activity that fosters sibling bonding. Whether putting up the tent together, cooking over the fire, or navigating a hike, activities like this will teach your children that they need each other and will deepen their respect for one another.
3. Speak positively about their relationship.
Rather than let your children know that you don’t want them to end up like you and your siblings (if you had a bad relationship with them), tell them that one of the best parts about being in a family like yours is that you will always have one another’s backs. Speak to them as though you fully expect this to happen.
4. Don’t manage emotions. Manage behavior.
When my kids were growing up in our home, I told them that they had the freedom to be mad, but they were never allowed to say mean things, swear or break someone else’s stuff when they were mad. The rules applied to everyone, so if one child was cruel to another, consequences were given.
Too often parents feel like they must control their child’s anger or sadness or whatever emotion he is feeling. But this a fruitless effort, as feelings, especially for children and adolescents, can be largely beyond our control. What is in your child’s control is how he responds to his emotions. Let him know he is allowed to feel what he feels, but there are boundaries as far as how he behaves as a result of those feelings.
Lastly, parents, be patient. It can take several years for siblings to grow close. Don’t expect them to have perfectly brotherly love just yet. Model a respectful attitude and tone, manage behaviors but not emotions, and find some activities your children can enjoy doing together. With time, they will build that bond and relationship you so hope for them to have.