It’s never fun dealing with kids who get on each other’s nerves. They annoy, taunt, poke and punch. They tease each other almost as if it’s their job. And maybe it is.
It’s never fun for parents when kids do this, but it isn’t always a bad thing. They’re figuring out how relationships work—taking chances, making mistakes, hurting feelings and getting hurt—all within the safe confines of family.
As fathers, we want our kids to learn to get along. But often our goal becomes ending the ruckus as soon as possible rather than helping them learn. So, what’s the best way to handle sibling issues that seem to go on and on? Here are three suggestions that might be helpful:
- Whenever possible, stay out of it. When a parent gets involved, usually things only get more heated and intense. The focus can shift from the issue at hand to whether you are being fair or playing favorites. And if you lose your cool and yell at or belittle the kids, suddenly that becomes the most intense drama of the moment and distracts everyone from the other issues—and any opportunities there may be to learn or grow stronger relationships. Yes, it may sound strange to even consider the possibility of something good happening, but it can, even if the learning or growth doesn’t happen for months or years down the road.
So, dad, don’t jump in too quickly. It isn’t your job to determine who’s at fault or “who started it.” Instead, encourage them to resolve conflicts on their own. Of course, if someone is in danger of being wounded physically or emotionally, then step in. But if they are simply whining or being a bother, then let them work it out. If you do get involved, don’t take sides, but focus on reinforcing positive skills and character traits.
The two other ideas are more preventive, addressing issues that are likely behind a child’s combative attitudes.
- Build a strong and affirming connection with each of your kids individually. You don’t need a degree in psychology, but know that there are always underlying issues—needs, hurts, desires and feelings—under the surface for each child. And as a dad, you occupy an important position in your child’s world, and you can help them feel so secure that sibling issues are much less bothersome. Slights won’t hurt as much, or maybe they’ll they’ll feel no need to compete with their brother or sister. As a dad, that should be one of your ultimate goals with them.
You can achieve that by simply being the dad you know they need. Spend lots of one-on-one, undistracted time with each of your children. Pour yourself into their lives. Empathize with their feelings, be dependable, and keep your promises. Make sure each child is getting lots of verbal encouragement and physical affirmation.
- Find ways to help your kids get along with each other. Plan some activities that appeal to everyone in the family. Having fun and laughing together helps each child see that he or she can enjoy other family memebers. Also do things as a family that allow your kids to exhibit their own individual strengths. For example, if one child is an athlete and another isn’t, mix in a variety of outings so each kid will have a chance to shine or be in his or her element. That will help them learn to appreciate and respect each other.
This isn’t meant to minimize the challenges and strong emotions of squabbling kids. But you can take constructive action—and it doesn’t have to mean separating them every time emotions flare. Time spent learning to enjoy each other and working out conflicts now will lead to a tighter family down the road.
What are your secrets for sibling issues? Share your insights with other dads on our Facebook page.