Managing Sibling Rivalry during School Holidays
For most children and their families, school holidays are a welcome break; they have a lot more time to spend with their family and they don’t have to rush to get ready in the morning. During school holidays, siblings spend more time together at home and go on more outings together. It’s a happy, happy time! Nonetheless, many families experience, even at the onset of the school holidays, issues with sibling rivalry. They have to deal with battles over sharing toys, taking turns, and boundaries. How the parents go about resolving these conflicts impacts how the siblings then resolve these conflicts themselves.
For parents, sibling rivalry can be upsetting to deal with. Often, parents have an automatic impulse where they want to get involved, resulting in a cycle of handing out penalties to older siblings, cancelling planned activities and separating younger siblings. As you can appreciate, this is not the best start to the holidays. In order to effectively deal with sibling rivalry, we need to get to grips with the reasons behind the conflict in the first place.
It’s perfectly normal for siblings to have episodes of competition and jealousy. Children of all ages tend to be possessive of their own toys, especially those who are toddlers. For school aged children, it can be tough to mix with toddlers, who think all the toys are theirs. Toddlers are naturally destructive and even the calmest elder sibling will react if the younger one persists in knocking down their tower, their building, or just generally being destructive. What makes these situations even worse is that toddlers usually come with speedy, protective parents in tow!
Siblings of similar ages tend to get into power struggles when they spend more time together. You’ll start to see put-downs, one-upmanships, and seething bouts of violence. If, as parents, you do not address these situations as soon as they arise, this behaviour is likely to escalate. You will need to be aware of any triggers and how to solve them. For example, having a friend over to play could help when it comes to managing competitive behaviour amongst siblings who are of similar age. What is interesting is that sibling rivalry tends to rise when each sibling has their own friend over to play. In these situations, there could be more scenarios involving physical fighting, door slamming, and snatching or grabbing.
Combating Sibling Rivalry
Here are some approaches that you can adopt to manage family conflict during school holidays.
1. More Physical Exercise
To burn off energy, visit a local park or open space twice a day with your school-aged children. Siblings usually enjoy ball games, obstacle courses and climbing trees together. As parents, you could consider rewarding your children when they play nicely together. This may help to alleviate some of the sibling rivalry issues that may surface.
2. Becomes Allies with Your Children
Instead of constantly punishing and disciplining your children, arrange a get-together with your children who are over two years old. On a piece of paper, write down three rewards. Set rules for behaviour between the siblings. Try and use positive language such as ‘do’ instead of ‘don’t’. Encourage children to set down rules themselves. You will find that children tend to stick to rules that they themselves have thought up.
3. One-to-One Time
If one child starts to become more dominating, then set some one- to-one time aside to demonstrate a positive parent-child relationship and aim to move away from negative feelings and feedback. For many children, having one to one time with a parent allows them an opportunity to unwind and enjoy the attention that it brings. For parents, it’s a good time to reflect and work on their child’s capabilities. Instead of opting for rewards related to food or shopping, try something that requires two people, such as game of tennis or bowling.
4. Create Individual Stations
If you have pre-school aged children you will be familiar with setting up different stations or activities for your children to be able to move between over the course of a day. It is an effective method for children of all ages, and works well in having the children occupied for a longer period of time, keeping sibling rivalry at a minimum. In an outdoor area, you could consider setting up activities which are messier, such as painting, play dough, clay modelling, etc. Ask your children to help you to find tools from the kitchen which could be useful for the activities. Children of school age will be familiar with this kind of process.
5. Support Networks
If you have family living close by, such as grandparents, then use them as a way of combating sibling rivalry. Alternatively, arrange play dates with parents of your child’s school friends or offer to do half-a-day exchanges. E.g., “We can have Oliver on Tuesday morning; would you be able to take Daniel after lunch?” At the end of the day, no family is perfect and all parents need time out.
6. Sleep Patterns
The school holidays can end up becoming an excuse to stay up past the usual bedtime, but this may not be wise, as this lack of quality sleep can affect energy levels as well as emotions, resulting in conflict for children and adults alike. A better idea would be to create a plan where early nights are a must, say alternate days of the week. It is more positive to have early nights planned on the promise of a late night, rather than enforce an early night and trigger a tantrum.
It may be worthwhile planning a treat at the end of the holidays. This gives your children something to look forward to and serves as a celebration of the holidays if they’ve done their best to be nice to each other and have avoided conflicts where possible.
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