Sibling Discipline

During my workshops on Siblings, I often get questions about discipline. During my workshops on Discipline, I often get questions about siblings. If you have more than one child, you know these topics often overlap. I am going to provide answers here to some of those FAQs.

  • Praise Individually – When you praise a child, be sure that you are speaking to them directly, not trying to impact their sibling’s behavior. This means you don’t say, “Johnny, you cleaned your room! It always looks so nice in your room,” and then glare at his sister hoping she will hear and clean her’s. When you give a child praise, your intent should be clean. You should be praising for something you noticed, NOT to impact their siblings.
  • Discipline Individually – I know this is sometimes unavoidable, but as a parent avoid it when you can. This means if just Johnny is misbehaving at the playground try to find consequences other than having to leave the playground which would negatively impact his well behaved siblings.
  • Avoid Asking “Who Had It First?” and, “Who Started It?” – You are likely going to get two very different versions of the same story, and it often leaves you in just as unsure a place as you were before. You may also end up erring on the side of the one with the better verbal skills or louder crying. Worse yet, you may be encouraging them to lie. The answer is to, instead, state what you know, “I see you are struggling and both want that doll,” then move forward together.
  • Fair is Not Equal, Fair is Everyone Has Their Needs Met – This is a hard one to realize as so many parents strive to treat their children equally. Your children, however, are likely quite different from each other. They may be different ages and sexes. They may have strikingly different personalities. All of this means their needs are different. Let’s say you are the parent of an impulsive seven-year-old boy and a reserved three-and-a-half-year-old girl. Let’s say, on different days they each squabble over a toy and hit a playmate. Everyone having their needs met means it is okay that your discipline response is not the same even though their behavior was.

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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