Reducing the sibling conflict

Published 7:01 am Sunday, June 26, 2016

QUESTION: Do all kids in the same family pick on each other?


ANSWER: Even in the families where parents work at eating meals and doing chores and playing together, kids bicker over who gets to pick the TV programs, and complain about who is getting special privileges, and make snide remarks that cause tears and pinch until someone screams.

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Children in a family know precisely what their brothers’ and sisters’ “hot buttons” are and skillfully do things that cause dramatic reactions. My husband grew up in a family of 4 boys and 1 girl, all just a year or two a part in age.

His sister still talks about her brothers taking the head off of her beloved doll and playing catch with it in the living room. One year my older brother, who was usually very good to me, would regularly tell me there was a frog in the bottom of my glass of milk and then “ribbet” softly until I was so distressed I wouldn’t drink it. Our oldest son totally wiped out a summer of water skiing for his younger brother by telling him that Jaws was in our cabin lake.

While the teasing, competition and quarreling is never going to be eliminated, there are ways to reduce meanness. First, of course, is to practice respectful behavior ourselves, among adults and with our children. Kids learn what they live. If we resort to belittling and hitting when we are stressed or angry, our kids will naturally react the same way under pressure. Children mimic the adults in their lives in very obvious ways by the time they are 3 years old.

One family of three girls has a once a month “appreciation night.” Everyone writes down two very specific things they like or have enjoyed about each person in the family that month and then they are read aloud. The girls have started making posters for their rooms with all the positive comments they have received.

One parent has posted a rule that states: “No name-calling or hurtful teasing. Whoever breaks the rule must think of something to say that is kind and do the other’s chores for the day.”

Setting a timer that signals the end to a pre-determined time a younger brother can hang-out with an older brother and his friend is a creative way of decreasing resentment that can result in the backlash of ugly remarks or behavior.

These are things that help establish a friendly home environment.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child- raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out and free resources at the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library (105 First Street SE, Austin).