Sibling Rivalry: How to Teach Kids to Be Kind
Teaching kindness to my kids has long resided in my parenting toolbox. My husband and I often focus on the small things – saying “please and thank you”, opening doors for others, greeting others kindly. We also try to teach our kids about caring for the world through environmental or “green” efforts and caring for others through charitable activities. But lately, I’m finding our kindness inside the home is in danger. Sibling rivalry has been rearing it’s “icky” head. Our very independent 3-year-old son has successfully learned how to press all his (sometimes Type A) big sister’s buttons. If she’s reading and he’s bored, he knows that taking one of her special bedroom toys is going to get lots of attention.
My husband and I have been working with Olivia (the 8-year-old) to give her the tools to deal with her little brother. We even have a code word (pickle) for when Owen’s trying to get a reaction and when she should just ignore it. But my real goal, and struggle, is how to teach the kids to be kind to each other. Here are a few ways we are going about it but I would love to hear how others handle this.
Tips for Teaching Siblings Kindness & Caring
Talk about how families and friends treat each other. Because we’ve been dealing with Owen’s self-control issues (hitting, biting, and behaviors that drive us crazy) for awhile now, talking about how we treat friends and family is an ongoing dialogue in our household. We read books that teach manners, good behaviors and friendship. We engage in dinner-time conversations about Owen’s preschool and friends at school. We have countless conversations about alternative ways to express you’re upset about something rather than hitting mom, dad, and “sissy.” It can feel incredibly frustrating at times but I am finding that the persistent dialogue is paying off.
Kindness Jar. The kindness jar started a bit by accident. Olivia’s second grade teacher has a “good behavior” jar in the classroom that gets filled with pom-poms. When filled, the class can pick from a selection of special classroom activities (i.e. dance party in the gym!). Olivia decided she wanted one at home so I had the idea that pom-poms would be awarded for displays of kindness towards each other: playing nicely together, using nice words with each other, resolving conflicts, being patient, etc. We’re still working on the first fill – we had to completely empty it once, but that’s a story for another time. So far, it’s going well.
Encourage cooperative play. When the kids are playing together nicely it’s like the sun shining on your wedding day. It’s magical! With a five year age difference, it can be challenging to get to the sweet spot with playing. Owen wants to figure everything out himself and Olivia wants to do things exactly the way that she imagines. Successfully encouraging cooperative play is about knowing each child’s strengths or interests that day. For the kids right now, the best scenario is Olivia gently guiding or showing Owen how to do something and giving him a chance to do it himself. For instance, they recently spent over an hour working on his High Five Highlights magazine – Olivia being the “teacher” and Owen doing the activities. We also find a lot of collaboration when building and playing with Legos.
Give lots of hugs. I’m a firm believer that hugs can cure anything.When we get caught in those bad moment – the kids are fighting, mom and dad are mad about the fighting, everyone is grumpy – I’ll catch that hurt look on the kids face and know immediately what they (and I) need…a hug. Bottom line: hugs help so I give lots of them every day.
I’m sure there are a million ways to overcome sibling rivalry and help kids learn kindness. I’d love to hear what is working for other families.