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Managing sibling rivalry over the Christmas season
As the excitement of Christmas and Santa Letters begins to ripple across homes around the country, both children and parents prepare for the build-up and giddiness that goes with it. Along with Easter and summer time, the Christmas holidays are one of the longer spells that children spend at home from school and crèche and, like any break, we as parents are looking for things to do to keep our children happy and entertained. It is important that we allow our children to entertain themselves, however as we all know, with that can come the squabbling - "He’s looking at me", "That’s not fair", "I got that first" – sound familiar? So, how can we help keep the peace over our Christmas holidays?
Keep calm – press the pause button
If it’s a daily occurrence, there is no doubt it can be hard to stay calm and patient when our children fight with one another; however, the more we can press the pause button and manage our own feelings of upset and frustration, the more likely we can deal with the situation and stay focused on supporting the children. Lovely deep breaths can often save the day! Practicing will help, taking a deep inhale of breath right up through your upper body and in through your nose while exhaling right down into your diaphragm – this does work, I promise.
Avoid taking sides
If you can offer a distraction to avoid the disagreement, this can be a great way to diffuse matters straight away. Often when children fight, it becomes a habit and it gets our attention. Unless you know that one child has clearly provoked the other, it’s important to avoid taking sides. The child that shouts the loudest can often get the most attention, so keep an eye on who is setting off whom!
Instead, we can support both children. If you hear them fighting, as best you can approach with a calm and warm voice and say, “Let’s take it easy now so we can sort this out.” It’s often good to speak to them together for whatever is going on, e.g. “In this family we are gentle with one another”.
If you do use consequences, rather than focusing on one child try to have consequences that affect them both, such as “The game is being put aside until everyone calms down”. If they need time away from each other, allow this. This might mean opposite sides of the house. Our children often need that space too.
When our younger children struggle to share, this can be really tough on them. Between two and three years of age, they believe the world revolves around them and sharing just doesn’t come into it! So, when we have two children fighting over the one toy, it’s important that we don’t set our expectations too high on how they cope with that. Empathise with your child while offering distraction, or an alternative is often the best possible solution here. When we acknowledge their feelings, they do feel appreciated and understood.
Praise them when they are enjoying each other’s company
When our children are laughing, giggling, having fun and playing together, it’s undoubtedly lovely to see and hear; it’s hard not to notice. The next time you pass by and see them enjoying one another’s company, let them know - “It’s so lovely to see how well you’re getting on and being gentle with one another.” Children adore being praised, and when you show your approval of what your child is doing, they’re more likely to continue to do more of the things you want them to do and less of what you don’t want them to do.
Spending quality time together
The more fun times our children experience with one another, the more it builds on their relationships. They become more aware of this as they get older and understand the meaning of friendship. If you really want to break the cycle of clashing with one another, allow the children pick activities that they can do together. One example is swimming; it’s fun, active and gets us out of the house during the quieter days of the holidays!
As children get older their relationships with each other change. The unconditional love they have will always be there, and in those early years our children are finding their place in the family and their personalities and strengths are very much part of that.
Aoife Lee, Parent Coach for Giraffe Childcare