Siblings make the best of friends – until they make the worst of enemies. From silly squabbles to “he said, she said” antics, parents often play referee between their children. See if these common scenarios sound familiar in your home, and read our local experts’ advice on how to resolve problematic issues, bring siblings closer together and ultimately make families stronger.
My 9 and 11 year-old sons are on the same soccer team and are highly competitive – with each other. I think this behavior is making them better players, but I’m worried that their constant rivalry may be unhealthy for their relationship. How can I make sure we are striking the right balance?
It’s great that your sons share common interests and a passion for soccer. Having siblings on the same team can be a great way for your children to bond and develop the intimate relationship we all hope our children will grow to have throughout their lives. However, you are smart to be mindful of how the rivalry between your sons may manifest in negative and unhealthy dynamics between them.
Your boys, at ages 9 and 11, are growing in their sense of independence, and their desire to be seen as individuals separate from the family is greater than it has ever been. This desire to be seen as a separate and unique individual is likely at play within your boys’ rivalry. It is important to praise both boys for their individual strengths in the sport. For example, if one of your sons is a strong offensive player- praise his effort and confidence to take a shot. And if your other son is a strong defender- praise his effort to hustle back and stop the opposing team. Emphasizing hard work and effort over ability will keep your sons focused on the team aspect of soccer which can help decrease the rivalry to be seen as “the star” or better player. Encourage your sons to acknowledge each other’s strengths as well. Modeling this talk often within the family will teach your sons how to support one another and help them develop the skills crucial to developing a healthy sense of self: belonging, purpose, competence, ability to make decisions, personal responsibility, trust and empathy.
Kristen Pastrick, LCSW, LCAC Psychotherapist and Owner of KAP Counseling, LLC in Broad Ripple
I am recently remarried and my new husband and I bring a total of four kids to the marriage, ranging in age from 4 to 13. Things are not going smoothly with many arguments and hurtful words between them. We want our blended family to work. What are the key ground rules we should establish among the kids so they can build better relationships with each other?
Having a blended family is hard. First thing, as parents define for yourselves what your new combined family values and traits of importance are, kind of like a map. You need to know where you are going before you decide how to get there. Stick to 3-5 things and make sure they are realistic! For example: everyone contributes to the house, be respectful or be helpful every day.
Next, write out concrete rules and specific, corresponding consequences; everyone needs to follow these including parents. Each rule needs to reinforce the family values. I encourage parents to make a list of 5 and have the kids make a list of 5, then meet and agree on 10 total. For example, one of my favorites (and a non-negotiable) is “no hurts.” This means no hitting, name-calling, fighting, ex-spouse bashing, etc.
Lastly, but most importantly, invest in your relationships with each kid. This is a super hard transition for everyone. Each week, each parent should have a “date night” with one child 1:1. If leaving home isn’t an option, let that child stay up late and do something (non-electronic) with them 1:1. Another option is allowing the child to pick and help make dinner one night of the week.
Jessica Hood, MSW, LCSW Child and Adolescent Therapist, Indy Child Therapy
Despite our attempts to make everything fair among our three children, they always seem to find a way to feel that one child has more privileges, gets more things, etc. than the others. This situation causes almost daily fights and it’s driving us crazy. What can we do to have them understand that we treat them equally?
This seems to be a common dilemma among parents who have multiple children. First off, please understand that it is impossible for siblings to be treated equally by their parents due to each child’s specific needs and stage of development. The goal might better be set as trying to be fair, instead of equal. If you find yourself in the moment and are desperate for a way to cope with these types of conversations, you can focus on redirecting the conversation to another topic. The difficult situations you are experiencing will likely lead to growth among your children as they practice conflict resolution. It might not be your duty as a parent to be a referee or clear up issues as they arise. Instead of looking at how to problem solve issues as they happen, focusing on building relationships will be an amazing asset for when conflict occurs. Individualized time a parent offers their child can be a time to refrain from negative attention, but to focus on reinforcing positive behaviors the child is demonstrating.
Colleenia Korapatti, MA, LMHC
Private Practice, Groff and Associates