School holidays, for most siblings, equate to more time together and less rush in the mornings. With the school holiday schedule in motion, siblings are more likely to be spending blocks of time at home or going on outings together. For most families, the first week of the school holidays triggers an increase in sibling rivalry as children reassert themselves and battle over boundaries, toys and turn-taking and parents attention! How parents manage this conflict often impacts on how siblings manage conflict between themselves. The Quirky Kid Clinic is often busier with ‘conflict resolution’ referrals around this time of the year.
Sibling rivalry is often upsetting for parents to witness or overhear. Many parents experience an immediate urge to intervene and they quickly become part of this cycle of conflict, delving out consequences to older siblings, separating younger ones or canceling all planned activities for the afternoon - not a great way to start the school holidays. To better manage sibling rivalry, it is important to understand the cause of the conflict.
Most brothers and sisters are prone to bouts of jealousy or competition and children of all ages are typically possessive of their own toys - this is particularly true of toddlers. Children aged one to three years can be hard to hang around for school-aged kids. Even the most patient elder sibling will react to a persistent toddler in an attempt to save their cubby house, lego towers or the like from certain doom! To make matters worse, toddlers come with fast-acting, protective parents in tow - how different home is compared to the freedom of the school playground.
Siblings of similar ages are also prone to power struggles when they are spending more time together. Beware of simmering violence, oneupmanship and put-downs. Without focused attention this behaviour will typically escalate and is best addressed by both parents as soon as it arises. Being aware of children’s triggers, such as having a friend over to play, may help parents to plan around competitive behaviour between similarly aged siblings. Interestingly, sibling rivalry often increases when each sibling has their own friend to entertain. Parents attending the clinic this week have similarly reported an increase in ‘TV remote snatching’, ‘door slamming’ and ‘physical fighting’ between siblings.
It’s little wonder school holidays take some adjustment for the whole family. The following five strategies are provided to reduce sibling rivalry and set the scene for a respectful and relaxed remaining holiday.
Make your children your allies
Rather than putting out ‘spot fires’ or disciplining children on a regular basis, plan a meeting with all children over 2 years of age. Bring paper, select a scribe and brainstorm three rules and rewards for respectful behaviour between siblings. Use positive language, such as “Do” rather than “Don’t” and encourage kids to be as specific as possible. Children are more likely to adhere to their own rules.
Set up separate stations
Parents with preschoolers will be aware of how to set up separate stations or activities for children to move between throughout the day. This is effective for children of all ages and it works to keep siblings separate for longer periods. Consider clay modeling or play doh in an outdoor area or similar. Ask children to help find tools to use from the kitchen drawer for cutting or swishing. Rotate siblings between spaces every 5-10 minutes. School-children will be familiar with this procedure.
Increase physical exercise
Visit the park in the morning or your local oval once or twice a day with school-aged children to burn energy. Siblings are often interested in mapping out obstacle courses together, climbing trees or engaging in ball games. Parents may consider rewards for sibling groups, such as outings or activities, for playing nicely together. You may change the cycle of cynicism often associated with sibling rivalry.
When one child becomes more dominant in the family unit, plan some one-on-one time to instill a positive parent-child relationship, moving away from negative feedback and frustration. For most children, individual time with a parent is a chance to relax and enjoy the attention. For parents, it may be a chance to remember your child’s developmental stage and their capabilities. Two-person activities, such as indoor rock climbing or tennis are recommended over shopping or food rewards, otherwise parents will be required to set limits once again.
Establish Support Networks
Grandparents are great for dividing siblings, but not every family has the luxury of family living close by. Setting up play dates takes courage at times, particularly when sibling rivalry has been an issue. Ring or text school friends and offer to do half day exchanges, such “We’d love to have Harry in the morning on Friday, are you able to take Simon after lunch?” Every parent needs time out and no family is perfect, so take the plunge! Other parents often pass on contact details, if you don’t have a number you need.
2. Tell Me A Story - An engaging game for families developed by Kimberley O’Brien.
3. It’s Not Fair - For children 3-7 years.
Do you have a sibling holiday horror story? How have you handled the conflict in your home?