Tips on Dealing with Sibling Relationships
March 6, 2023
Our expert, Katie from Katie’s Classroom, who has four children of her own, thinks that sibling relationships are one of the most stressful parts of parenting! Specifically when our children argue. When they bicker. When they constantly fight. When they constantly don’t get along.
She talks to us about it here:
It feels like our children constantly get at each other and it’s really stressful and in all honesty, makes me feel a bit sad.
Why can’t they just get along?
What’s wrong with them?
What’s wrong with me?
What’s wrong with our parenting?
I can’t believe other families have to break up this many fights?
I hope this article weirdly brings you comfort that you are not alone.
Let’s get real!
The reason it is SO stressful when our children argue is because there is a deep belief within us that our children should get along. They should like each other and when they don’t get along and seemingly hate each other we immediately think we’ve done something wrong and we’ve let them down.
When our children argue we are literally caught in the middle of two human beings that we love equally, trying to resolve their arguments with utter fairness while feeling stressed – an absolute impossible task!
The constant refereeing is exhausting.
So the main worries are…
When our children constantly bicker, I think we worry that they will never have a positive sibling relationship.
I think we worry that they’ll end up hating each other forever, which will ultimately reflect badly on us. It’s almost like an expectation that siblings should get on and if your children do get on then you’re winning at parenting and if they don’t get on it’s embarrassing or you’re failing them and yourself.
I think we worry that our children won’t value their siblings in later life.
I don’t know about you, but our children behave very differently in public. They’re angels in public! But behind closed doors at home, they’re monsters!
So it’s almost like a little secret that we all carry around that our children argue.
I think we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves as parents, which doesn’t help us when we’re trying to deal with the arguments.
What are our own experiences of our children fighting?
We have four children and they sort of come in pairs! Bass and Harry often play together and Alice and Freddie play together.
I’m going to start by explaining the Alice and Freddie dynamic because it’s easier!
Alice and Freddie fight but it feels like it is in a ‘normal’ way. Alice has something Freddie wants so he pulls her hair. Alice has something Freddie wants so he bites her. Alice has something Freddie wants so he pushes her. Freddie wants something different on the tele, which annoys Alice so she pushes him.
They will constantly wind each other up but their arguments are resolved reasonably quickly. They don’t hold a grudge. As quickly as they hate each other, they quickly make up. They have a constant love/hate relationship. Pretty normal. Pretty healthy.
Bass and Harry fight but it feels different. Personality wise they couldn’t be more different. In obvious terms, their brains think differently.
Harry is sociable, happy go lucky, wants to get messy, be active, be loud and chaotic. Bass often wants to play on his own, with his own things that no one can touch, he is neat, tidy, sensible and quiet.
You can see where our trouble lies! And I’m sure you have children in your family set up that are like chalk and cheese.
Bass is governed by rules. He absolutely loves a routine and it’s the predictability of his rules and routines that reduces his stress levels. Harry is not governed by rules so it is a constant battle trying to educate both parties on each other’s differences.
Neurodivergent verses neurotypical siblings…
I have said in the past that as a family we do a lot to placate Bass. If Bass is happy then we’re all happy. If Bass is ok, then we’re all ok. I realise now that this is the wrong way to look at it. While researching this chat, it’s evident that we need to as a family think of our family as one thing that has lots of different components – a whole network that exists around each member not just one!
The irony is not lost on me that Harry has fairness issues. Everything has to be fair in his little world and if it isn’t then all hell breaks loose. He flies off the handle, shouts and slams doors. I always thought this was because he’s a bit like me but actually this might be because he has seen how we parent Bass and is acutely aware that Bass often gets special treatment. He is allowed to eat his supper separately. He goes to a fee paying school. He has more school meetings. He gets sushi every Monday and Wednesday after his club. The list goes on.
I read somewhere that neurotypical siblings (the Harry’s of this world) will feel the same emotions we feel towards their neurodivergent sibling. As we feel confused by Bass’s behaviour sometimes so will Harry. As we feel frustrated, tired and stressed by Bass’s behaviour, so will Harry so it is important that we recognise the emotional toll it has on Harry.
So how can we help them just be nicer to each other?
So how can we help them get along a bit better?
*By the way, this advice is as much for me as it is for you!
1. Keep your emotions in check.
Such an obvious one but I think we need to be reminded of this. Keep your emotions in check. If this means walking back into the kitchen and taking a deep breath before you break up a squabble so be it but keep your emotions in check. Without sounding threatening, your children are always watching you and your reactions and approach. So keep your emotions in check. Be the calm in the storm.
2. Use attention prevention!
I can’t remember now where I got this slogan but it has resonated with me. Attention as in giving your children attention will prevent bust ups. Create special dates for all your children. Simply engage with them and enjoy them. I almost spat out my tea last night as I read this but it’s true. Each of your children NEEDS attention. If possible! Set aside time once a week. If that isn’t realistic then one every two weeks or even once a month. Spend quality alone time with each child. Dedicate quality one on one time each week with each of your children, where they are the centre of your attention and make them feel special.
3. Be open about their differences.
This is a tricky one to swallow as we have spent much of our family time not wanting to draw attention to Bass’s differences. Staying away from the subject of differences can inadvertently send the message that it is taboo or shameful. Talk about emotions openly and discuss the range of reactions individuals can have to the same event.
4. Listen. Listen. Listen to them.
Next time your children argue don’t try and quickly dismiss the argument. Instead listen closely and validate their feelings before you try and solve anything. Anything that we learn from one another we should share so that we all have a greater understanding of each other.
5. Share positive experiences.
This can be really tricky with children who have vastly different interests but try and simply find things that they both enjoy. Much harder than it looks but I’m going to try and think of activities I can do with both of them.
6. Assist conflicts.
We often know when our children have reached their limit. The raised voices usually come before the hitting so try and preempt by diverting or switching things up early.
7. Seek out similarities.
Although your children’s differences might be very obvious – try and share commonalities often. Mention similarities between them often. Emphasise their similarities often however small they are.
There we go! That’s the start of my sibling relationship chat. It’s a big topic so I’m sure I’ll be back again to talk about it soon. I hope that was useful. I would love to hear from you. Do your children argue? Are you constantly breaking them up? If so what about? How do you referee? How does it make you feel?