In Episode 82, I’m chatting with my friend Sara Kuljis, the owner and director of Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp and Emerald Cove Day Camp. Sara is a 20-year veteran camp director and parenting trainer who has great insights and ideas about parenting and counseling kids. We’re starting a new series, about sibling conflict and sibling rivalry, and today we’re talking about how to manage the conflict that naturally occurs between siblings.
“I’m a mom of 2 kids, an almost 13-year-old girl and a just turned 8-year-old boy. My husband and I have both taught in public and private schools and we’ve been youth leaders in churches. Our current challenge is to help our kids with conflict resolution since it seems they tend to be in conflict fairly often at school and at home. Can’t we just all get along?! The difference in age, personalities, and sexes has made it extra difficult.”
“My biggest parenting struggle at the moment is sibling rivalry, bickering, one-upping, putting down, etc. I’ve read books, consulted experts, given the “Team [Family Name]” talk, etc., but nothing seems to work. It may be compounded by the fact that I have twins (age 9), but I talk to my mom friends with different age siblings and it seems pervasive. Curious to know if you have any words of wisdom from your own experience or your fellow experts.”
My Email Response
Thank you for reaching out! It’s definitely very normal for kids to go through phases where it’s harder for them to get along, especially if their personalities clash or they’re in different life phases. And it isn’t easy! My kids have gone through their phases as well. 🙂 I will say, now that most of them are adults they really do value the time they have together. It sounds like you have a plethora of experience working with youth as well, and I’m excited that you found my blog so that we can connect.
I also really think that the key lies in helping each child feel great about themselves – so a focus on their strengths rather than any comparison is good.
Finally (again, off the top of my head), I ignored a lot of my kids’ smaller squabbles. That’s just what siblings do.
- Children don’t need to be treated equally. They need to be treated uniquely.
- Parents need to be intentional about honoring the uniqueness of each of their children.
- Addressing each of your children uniquely shows them that they are special to you and loved by you.
- Sibling rivalry and sibling conflict are normal with children.
- Children tend to outgrow their sibling rivalry and conflicts when they grow up.
- Instead of giving each child equal time, give time according to each child’s need.
Sara: “The chemistry and the personality and the interests of our children sometimes don’t line up.”
Sara: “It is good as a parent to determine my level of influence, how I influence, and what things do I just need to be patient for.”
Audrey: “We have to look at the long-term picture. We’re hopeful that the things we do as parents will at least promote long-term positive relationships. But even that is not guaranteed.”
Sara: “As kids growing up, my sister and brother and I were constantly arguing. Constantly. We couldn’t get along for more than a day. As adults, we really grew to like each other a lot. We always loved each other, but now we really like each other.”
Sara: “Take a moment and see if outside the home they have good friends. And if they do have that capacity, they’re going to be okay.”
Sara: “Sometimes we just bring home the pressure and bring home the crankiness, and we spill them on those who are closest to us.”
Audrey: “I remember several years where I was such a bratty little sister.”
Audrey: “There are also cases where, realistically, siblings are so different, or your sibling has some kind of mental health issue or something that really does make them very difficult to have any relationship with. And that’s something that’s just life, right?”
Audrey: “If you don’t get the positive relationship you need, you need to find it elsewhere.”
Sara: “As parents, we should be really intentional about honoring the differences and the uniqueness of every child.”
Sara: “When our kids can articulate it, let’s ask. Because it might surprise us what it means to them for us to support them.”
Audrey: “Addressing each child uniquely is really important to make them feel they’re loved and they’re special to you, even if they don’t do the same things as somebody else.”
Sara: “Just spend a little time entering his world and understanding what makes him tick around this.”
Sara: “Space is a really good thing. Time to just quiet one’s own heart.”
Sara: “That argument right after school every day- I started taking snacks in the car when I picked the boys up and the first thing they did was eat. We actually decreased the squabbles, those little naggy squabbles, by a good fifty percent.”
Sara: “All of us are going to have those really heated moments and a lot of pent-up energy. And having appropriate and safe ways to get it out I think is great! I think a punching-bag is great. Rather a punching-bag than each other! Or go for a run. Go for a bike ride. Let some steam off.”
Audrey: “Give them some space. Don’t try to force people to be together who are just not compatible at the moment or at the age.”
Sara: “We can’t demand closeness and we can’t demand that they’re best friends. But we can require respect.”
Sara: “We can start teaching empathy to tiny little kids.”
From Siblings Without Rivalry- How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish: “As I half-listen from the next room, I am surprised at how relaxed I am. I realize how little emotional investment I have in the moment-by-moment temperature of their relationship. I know that the differences in interest and temperament that kept them from being close in childhood are still there but I also know that, over the years, I have helped them build the bridges to span the separate islands of their identities. If they ever need to reach out, they have many ways of getting there.”
Audrey’s website: www.sunshine-parenting.com
Audrey’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sara teaches parenting workshops in Southern California. Contact Sara to have her come speak to your group on parenting topics including:
• Positive Behavior Shaping
• Effective Affirmation
• Pace of Life
• Listening Skills
Recommended books: Siblings Without Rivalry- How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, the authors of How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen And Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.
Quick reference guide: The chart that summarizes Siblings Without Rivalry that we referenced in this episode in at The Montessori Notebook: https://www.themontessorinotebook.com/siblings-without-rivalry/
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Audrey’s book, Happy Campers- Nine Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults, is coming out on May 7th. It’s available now for pre-order. Go to www.happycampersbook.com to find links to all your favorite book retailers where you can pre-order your copy. Audrey will send you some fun freebies, and an invitation to join her private Facebook group once you’ve completed the pre-order form.