Family Dynamics

Keeping Siblings from Each Other's Throats During Quarantine

Part I: Address the needs and feelings that are driving your child’s behavior.

Posted Mar 07, 2021

"One of my children is having such a hard time that he's making everyone in the family miserable. How do we keep our kids from each others' throats when we're all home, all the time?!"

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Family life is hard enough in ordinary times, because kids are still learning basic skills to get their needs met without attacking others .... and, truth be told, so are parents.

So right now, after a year of forced togetherness, it's not surprising that many homes feel like a pressure cooker. If your children are at each others' throats and you're getting fed up, you're not alone.

It's natural to snap and start shouting threats. But since all humans rebel against control, you just end up escalating the drama. And since punishment doesn't address the emotions and needs causing your children's "bad" behavior, this approach ends up creating more antagonism.

Luckily, there's a better way. Address the needs and feelings that are driving the behavior, and you can nip it in the bud. Today we will discuss two of the five family habits you can structure into your life in quarantine to help with emotions, meet needs and heal sibling rivalry. In our next post, we will share the last of the five habits. These family habits ensure more peace and affection all around, whether your kids are still at home or back to school and activities.

1. Disarm Sibling Rivalry and Teach Social Skills.

No matter much siblings love each other, most will at times experience a twinge of worry that their parents might love their sibling more. At times of threat (and yes, a pandemic qualifies), this worry intensifies, and fighting may intensify. You can address this by making sure that each child feels uniquely appreciated, and that you're not unwittingly increasing sibling rivalry by comparing your kids or intervening in conflicts so that one child feels like they "lost." This is also a terrific opportunity to teach your kids the skills to work through their differences in ways that bring them closer.

  • Special Time with each child is more important than ever, so they feel connected, seen, valued and safe. It also gives them a safe place to play out their worries, or bring them up verbally.
  • Empathizing with each child -- without making the other one wrong -- helps kids feel acknowledged, even when they can't get what they want. "It sounds like YOU want some peace and quiet. And YOU want to dance to your music! This is a tough situation. I wonder how we can work this out?"
  • When tensions start to rise, step in to uphold standards of respect, without shame or blame: "You two sound really mad at each other. You can tell each other what you need without attacking each other."
  • Instead of rushing in to correct and protect, coach your kids to stand up for themselves. "I hear some words that could really hurt. You can tell your sister 'I don't like it when you tease me.'"
  • If one child persists, be your child's backup to uphold your family rules and teach repair: "Our family rule is Be Kind. Your brother is telling you how he felt when you used those words. I wonder what you can do to make things better with your brother now?"
  • Never compare your children, which increases competitiveness.
  • Parents often increase sibling rivalry because they don't know how to intervene in conflicts without creating more resentment. The articles linked to at the end of this post will help you take your parenting game up a notch. And don't miss the section of the Aha! website that's devoted to Parenting Siblings.

2. Insure personal space.

One effect of being cooped up together is that it's easy to get on each other's nerves. Everyone needs some downtime to "just be" with themselves and replenish their batteries. Yes, extroverts need this time too, although they often don't need as much of it. Without some downtime, all children get over-stimulated, which eventually leads to crash and burn.

  • Teach your child the words to help them disengage from siblings when they've had enough time together: "I really like playing with you. Right now I'm starting to feel crabby so I need some time by myself."  
  • Be your child's backup by diverting the sibling: "Your brother loves you and will play with you later.  Right now he is going to read. What would you like to do?"
  • Be sure that everyone in your family has a way to withdraw to a quiet, cozy space when they need to. You may want to designate one room of your home as the "Quiet Room." If your home is big enough, each person can have a room that is theirs, to withdraw to.
  • This is the time for headphones, so no one is subjecting the rest of the family to their screen and music preferences.
  • You do need a family schedule to stay sane. Be sure that Quiet Time or Me Time is part of each day, for everyone.

In our next post, we will continue to discuss family habits that will address the needs and feelings that are driving your child’s behavior.