Decreasing Sibling Rivalry

“Darya!” My five-year-old screams at her older sister. “Darya!” The older sister in question chooses to let the screaming continue rather than answer her sister’s cries. Two of the older boys burst into the room and all I can understand is that it is something about a video game. Something has got to give.

All brothers and sisters fight to some extent — some quietly and smugly, others loudly or fiercely, but sibling rivalry is a part of every family with more than one child. My husband and I felt that the rivalry at our house had developed to unacceptable proportions, so with the help of some ingenuity and good counsel we decided to tackle this problem. What we came up with helped control some of the issues at our home.

#1 Gratitudes and Baditudes (bad attitudes)

This is a technique that our friends, the Schwalms, came up with. At dinner each night, we go around the table and share the highlights and low moments of our days. It started as a way to take stock of everyone’s day, but it had an unexpected perk. Our children started to use their, “baditudes,” as a way to apologize for a wrong they had done to another sibling during the day. For instance, one might say that their gratitude was having a friend over and that their baditude was fighting with a sibling. We were shocked to see this time becoming a mini examination of conscience. Dinnertime became a time for reconciliation at our house.

#2 You Owe Me a “Good.”

My husband came up with this idea based on the concept of penance. In our house, if one child hurts another by what they say or do they owe the injured party a “good.” A “good” is a favor, such as helping with a homework problem, going upstairs to get something or helping with a chore. The kids are not in charge of deciding who owes who a “good” — the parents are. Any “good” has to have parental clearance before it is used. This idea promoted responsibility for actions.

#3 What I Like about You

Another dinnertime game we play. When the kids become too negative about each other, we employ this idea. Each child gets a chance to be “it.” We go around the table and each child tells the child who is “it” one thing they like about him or her. This helps repair both self-esteem and injured sibling relationships.

#4 See the Other Side

When our children become too selfish or caught up in themselves (as we parents do sometimes as well) we take them someplace where they can see those less fortunate than themselves. One day the children were fighting about a treat they had. I plopped them in the car and took them to the poorer section of town. They saw houses that were falling apart, people eating out of trash cans and shelters for the homeless. It humbled all of us. We came home and decided to fast on bread and water for lunch and offer that as a sacrifice for all those in the world who suffer so much. Our gratitude was increased for what we had, as our eyes were opened to what others do not.

#5 You’re in the Army Now

Often in the military, if two people don’t get along they are forced to spend time together. Great idea for our kids. When two of our children can’t seem to stop arguing, my husband makes them partner up. We give them a chart on which they can earn points for good behavior and chores done. Then we make them responsible for each other. If child A does the dishes, he has to inform child B to give him his points. They can then ask each other to redeem points for television time, phone time, game time etc. If they argue about the points, they both lose all their points. This has worked very well for us. The more they disagree, the more time we require them to spend together. Eventually, they start to get along.

Our kids still fight (usually at 6:00AM, much to our dismay), but using these techniques has helped us decrease some of the rivalry at our house.

“Mom, Darya won’t answer me. You’re gonna owe me a good.”

That’s my cue: time to go be ”Mom.”

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Mary Lou Rosien is a Catholic wife and mother to seven children. She is a frequent contributor to Catholic women's and family magazines. She writes in between laundry, doing the dishes and driving her kids all over town in North Chili, New York.

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