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How to Prevent Siblings from Fighting

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sibgfightingParenting siblings can be a tricky endeavor, and nannying them can be even more difficult.  You are likely walking into a dynamic that has long been established, so tweaking behaviors and fostering friendships between siblings to encourage harmony might take a little more effort.

In Dr. Bill Sears’ 20 Tips to Stop Quibbling Siblings and Promote Sibling Harmony, the world renowned pediatrician, author of over 30 childcare books and father of eight (two of whom grew up to join a medical practice together!), shares his survival skills for creating a peaceful home.

We share how some of those tips can translate into great advice for nannies and caretakers:

(Don’t) Let Them Fight it Out

The old school of thought was to let kids duke it out, believing they’d eventually get over whatever problems they had without interference. It was thought that somehow floundering through conflicts and coming out on the other side, no matter how bad it escalated, was an important life lesson.  Limitless fighting can have negative long-term effects, though – and drive you insane in the short-term!

“If children are in danger of hurting someone or damaging property, stop the fight. Siblings who are allowed to fight as kids are more likely to fight as adults. For small tiffs, such as toy squabbles, teach children to handle it themselves. Simply state the consequences and what you expect, ‘I’ll be back in one minute. If you kids haven’t learned how to share the toy or work it out, the toy goes in the garage,’” offers Dr. Sears. “You can either time-out the toy or time-out the kids. You’re giving them two messages: you expect them to be able to work it out themselves, but you’re giving them the unequivocal consequences that if they don’t, you will.”

The New Kid on the Block

Toddlers and preschoolers will likely see you as their favorite toy, and serious jealousy and ill feelings can form when they sense you are (by necessity) investing more time in their new little brother or sister.

“We would wear our infant in a baby sling, which gave us two free hands to play a game with the older one,” says Dr. Sears. “While feeding baby, we would read a book to the sibling, or just have cuddle time. As baby gets older, place him in an infant seat or on a blanket on the floor to watch you play one-on-one with her big brother or sister. This entertains two kids with one [nanny].”

Sibling Squabbling vs. Sibling Abuse

A certain amount of low level bickering is bound to pop up now and then. Disagreements over toys, who took the last fruit leather and whose turn it is to help clear the table are pretty inevitable and working them out together is a natural part of growing up. But when these squabbles turn mean-spirited, escalate to the physical, or tend to be one-sided in a consistent manner – a more worrisome bullying pattern might be forming.

It could be one child who is older, who uses that power and experience to undercut a younger sibling emotionally or uses their physical inequality to force them to concede. It could just be a matter of one child (regardless of age) having a stronger personality, who tends to stampede over the more passive brother or sister. Regardless, when you recognize the beginnings of sibling abuse, it must be nipped in the bud – both to spare the self esteem and confidence of the weaker child and also your relationship and position of authority with both of the children. Bad habits are hard to break.

“Be watchful for aggressor/victim roles,” says Dr. Sears. “Your job is to protect [the] children, even from one another. How siblings behave toward one another is their first social lesson in how to behave in a group. Children need you to monitor put-downs. If you don’t, you’re not doing your job. By remaining silent, the victim concludes you’re siding with the victimizer.”

Make New Friends

Fostering friendships between siblings to cut back on the battles means creating a sense of empathy and compassion. This can be difficult when you enter the picture to two “sworn enemies”. Let them take on roles as teacher, comforter, entertainer or assistant to the doctor (you) in times of bumps and scrapes to help them see their sibling in a new light. Assign them small tasks to do cooperatively, and offer a joint reward at the end.

Know Your Limits

As a nanny coming into a home, you might be walking into a situation where the kids were allowed to beat on each other, call each other names, throw toys at each other and scream or slam doors during fights. While you can’t change the rules of the house, you don’t have to tolerate that type of behavior when they’re under your watch either.

Children understand there are different modes they must abide by in life and different rules and regulations that must be followed or there are consequences to be faced. They don’t run around the classroom yelling, interrupt the teacher when she’s teaching or steal treats from kids at the lunch table when they’re not looking (hopefully), and they can be taught that they must abide by your rules when in your presence – and that those rules might be different than what their parents allow. You are the person in authority and clearly laying out your limits or expectations and being consistent with the consequences will reap a speedy turnaround. Be prepared, though; this could take a little education in a formerly-free-for-all household.

“Offer calm verbal reminders, such as ‘That’s a put-down,’ as one sibling belittles the other. Or, issue a look that says ‘don’t even think about it!’ [when boundary lines are being threatened],” suggests Dr. Sears. “Head off fights at the first squabble, before they get out of hand. In our family, we have set certain ‘maximum allowable limits’, which are behaviors that we insist upon to like living with our children, and the children are taught to respect these.”

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