(Inside: Try these 5 simple tips to get siblings to play together nicely without erupting into arguments and fights every two seconds.)
The house is quiet. You’re cuddled in a comfy chair ready to enjoy a hot cup of tea and a nice book…
Before you’ve even put the kettle on, you hear screaming from the next room. It’s your kids shouting at each other… AGAIN!
“DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF”
“MOM! HE HIT ME!”
“YOU’RE THE WORST BROTHER EVER!”
Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.
Once again, YOU have to swoop in and keep the peace.
I know you’re exhausted.
And it feels like you’ve TRIED EVERYTHING…
From the latest Pinterest activity that is “guaranteed” to have your kids playing happily for hours only to have it end with “STOP DOING THAT!!!” and $20 worth of slime supplies thrown around the kitchen.
Or perhaps you’ve tried to impose strict rules and consequences, or resorted to threats of no screen time until everyone has graduated high school.
But none of it works.
You blame yourself.
You think it’s your fault.
But it’s not.
I know what it’s like to be a parent of a child that struggles with impulse control and pulls hair, hits, pinches, and bites over a mere “dirty look” from his sister.
I also know what it’s like to be a sibling of one of those kids…
And let me tell you, it’s NO FUN.
My mom used to say “siblings are supposed to fight, that’s just what they do”
And maybe that’s true.
But 20 years later I don’t even know where my brother lives…
Not exactly the sibling relationship I hoped for.
And not what I want for my kids!
Over the last several years I’ve discovered there IS a better way!
A way that doesn’t involve you becoming the world’s best drill sergeant.
A way where you don’t have to give up on your life or to-do list because you can’t leave your kids side for a single second.
Today I want to share few simple steps you can take to help your kids play together nicely, even if you’ve got one kid trying to be the boss of everything and the other shrieking like she has the lead role in a horror movie.
After asking thousands of parent their number one struggle, I heard the same answer over and over again:
They had questions like:
- How do you help your kids get along, keep the peace, and balance the time between multiple kids with totally different needs and interests?
- How do you get your kids to play with each other when everything turns into a screaming match over the smallest thing?
- What if you can’t leave your kids for one minute so you can get work done, answer phone calls, or use the bathroom without someone calling mom every second or cat food getting flung on the living room floor?
- What do you do if you’re cooped up, can’t go anywhere fun and your kids are fighting over space, attention, toys, and boredom?
But first, have you ever wondered…
Isn’t Sibling Fighting “Normal”?
Maybe you’ve heard,
“Siblings are supposed to fight”.
At least, that’s what my mom always said.
And let me tell you, me and my brother fought!!!
I had more than my share of punches doled out on me. Not exactly a picture perfect childhood…
And maybe you’re just waiting for the day your kids “grow out of it”.
My brother never did.
And now it’s been over 12 years since we’ve spoken (heck I don’t even know where he lives anymore).
My entire childhood I grew up receiving these very contradictory messages…
1. Siblings just bicker. It’s how it is.
2. Siblings love each other. You are family and all that you have when your parents are gone.
I was left completely confused.
On one hand I had this brother that I cared for and knew I should have a great relationship with.
On the other hand, I had a brother that treated me the way I was told I should never let any one treat me.
No one taught me how to love a sibling that hurt me.
No one taught me how to stand up for myself when he towered over me.
No one taught me how to build a relationship with someone that scared me.
Look, I get it.
I know what it’s like to raise an explosive child with siblings that get the brunt of his outbursts.
I know what it’s like to be the sibling to an explosive child that is misunderstood by everyone around them.
And if I’ve learned on thing… It’s that this isn’t how it has to be.
If you dream of days where your kids work out disagreements on their own, read stories together on the couch, where there’s cooperative play, hugs and hands kept to themselves.
I’ve got good news for you!
It IS possible.
It IS possible to raise siblings that love each other, that get along and treat other with kindness even if one sibling is explosive or struggles with anger or control.
Now is the Perfect Time…
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my kids to grow up and not have that connection or bond with the siblings.
I don’t want them to feel alone when I am gone, without the ability to call each other on the phone and not be able to lean into each other and support each other.
It’s become my mission, not only in my own family, but also helping the families that I work with, so that their siblings can get along, and ultimately build long term relationship.
And like I said, there is no better time than right now.
With the extra time at home, the forced togetherness, and the slow down of the world right now, there is no better time than to focus on building strong bonds and relationships with our kids.
The truth is, our world is forever changed and now is when bonds, safety and belonging are so important to how our kids are able to make sense of the changes around them.
You can use this time while stuck at home. Instead of driving a wedge between your kids, you can actually create a stronger bond during this time, even with all the to-do lists and all the things going on.
I want you to have permission if your family doesn’t look like connected right now, I want you to know that we focus on progress, not perfection here and now is the perfect time to be focusing on this (even if it is hard).
There are a couple of things you may have tried if you’re struggling:
- You can try all the “get along” ideas you find on Pinterest, like get along shirts, get along jars
- You can set firm rules and consequences for not getting along, like taking away electronics time, toys, or activities, or paying into a money jar every time they fight.
- You can spend hours researching, setting up and begging your kids to do “fun” activities together.
- If your siblings don’t have a solid TRUE connection to begin with. One that is based in mutual understanding, respect, and compassion.
The thing is, you can have all the great ideas. You can have the consistency and the boundaries and you can have all of these ways of building connection, but none of this really matters if your siblings don’t truly like each other.
How to Help Siblings Get Along and Play Together Without Fights
So you might be wondering, what can you do to create this strong bond?
Maybe you already give your kids all the attention possible,
…or you already spend tons of energy breaking up fights,
…or maybe you can tell your kids until you are blue in the face to be nice, but nothing seems to work.
That’s because you need a Connection Plan.
Create a Sibling Connection Plan
Here are the steps to create a connection plan so that your kid can get along without the rude comments, picking on each other, and yelling MOM every 2 seconds.
Step 1: Do a Lens Change
This means we have to redefine what we think connection means.
Many of us think that connection means playing together and having fun together and spending time together. And my guess is that you can’t possibly come up with more time in your day to get the siblings to spend time together.
Instead I want you to look at connection as feelings of being seen, heard, understood, valued, loved, cared for.
Do each of the siblings actually feel like the other sibling likes them?
Because if not, it’s going to be impossible to get them to play with each other.
Step 2: Getting Your Kids to Find a Common Ground
A lot of times we assume our kids know what each other like and don’t like.
When we work with families in struggling with sibling fighting and connection using our Calm the Chaos framework we encourage what we call family huddles, where we talk together and we come up with plans together.
A really simple huddle is to bring your kids together to find out what each child likes, and what they have in common.
- I like
- You like
- We like together
The coolest part… you can do this even if your kids are six and 15, or they’re close in age, or they have totally different interests.
Step 3: Make a Plan
Next, make a plan ahead of the moment.
So often, as grown-ups, we just jump right into the play.
It’s dinner time and you need to get dinner on the table. So you say, Hey, go play with your brother and sister and you assume that they know how to play with each other.
But you need to create a plan ahead of time:
- What are they going to play?
- When are they going to play it?
- What if something goes wrong?
- What might come up and what will they do? (We call that and Oops Plan)
Step 4: Be The Guide
This is important but so often overlooked. Please don’t skip this step. It is important to be the guide for our kids.
We have to teach our kids to play together.
I’m curious, did you grow up without someone teaching you…
- how to have compassion, empathy, understanding?
- how to take turns,
- how to listen,
- how to talk,
- how to share,
- how to take other people’s needs into consideration?
Do you know any grownups that still need those skills? I know I do.
So often, we think that play should come naturally.
But for many of our kids who struggle with emotional regulation, social struggles or language difficulties, play is extremely difficult.
In fact, this is for all kids, not just kids who might have sensory struggles or might have ADHD or might not recognize social cues.
Step 5: Stay Close
Finally, stay close by so you can monitor what your children are doing and how they are interacting.
Listen to the language they’re using, so that you can be there for support, and practice with them.
You can step in, limit how much time they’re playing together, and you can set them up for success.
I know you have work to do.
I know you have got a long list to do, but I’m telling you, if you take time to slow down and teach this connection and be there with your kids, it will make a world of difference.
More Tips for Helping Siblings Play Together Nicely Without Bickering or Hurt Feelings
Many of the things I’ve said today, you’ve probably heard before, and here’s the thing, you’ve heard it because this is based in the research from the last 30 years. It’s best practices put together in a step-by-step way that is simple to follow.
This is just the starting point. If you are still struggling to get your sibling to play together without fights erupting, try the following item:
- Talk with your children about the BIG FEELINGS that come up during play.
- Help children recognize that each sibling is unique.
- Have Family Huddles to discuss struggles.
- Talk out how you handled a conflict
- Create lists with ideas for play
- Arm siblings with problem-solving skills
- Plan for mistakes and make “Oops” plans
- Show them how to play
- Stay close to your playing kids at first
- Rethink your ideas of play and connection
I know that remembering these tips can be extremely hard to remember in the moment, which is why I’ve put together this free printable poster pack that has the 10 play tips but much more!
Here’s what you’ll get:
- 10 simple ways to stop fights and arguments before they even start
- 10 ways to get your kids to play nicely (either together and or alone) without bickering, hurt feelings, or jealousy
- How to talk so siblings listen — The exact words and phrases your kids can use to stop your living room from turning into World War 3. (If you spend half your day hearing things like “STOP!” or “DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF!” this will be a lifesaver.)
Now, you might be thinking, okay, these are all great…
I can get my kids to play together,
I can follow these steps,
I can have them play beside each other.
But here’s the thing, Dayna, they’re just so mean. They just speak so unkindly to each other.
I hear you.
And so in my next blog post, I’m going to be talking about exactly this:
- How to get your kids to talk to each other so the others will want to listen
- How to get them to be kind to each other
- How to get them to use kind words
- How to get them to understand what the other kids are struggling with
- How to have compassion for their siblings
For now, be sure to grab your FREE poster pack for here so you can be notified of the next post on How to Help Siblings Talk Kindly to Each Other.