Discipline Rules Between Siblings

Children figting, sibling rivalry

It’s one thing to know positive discipline.  It’s a whole other thing to apply this language consistently when there are siblings involved.  With school letting out, families are likely to be spending more time all together.  Here are a few discipline rules between siblings to help for a smooth summer:

  • Discipline individually – If you are at the park with three children and one keeps throwing sand after being asked to keep the sand in the box, aim your discipline towards the one rather than towards all three.  Say something like “If you are throwing sand, you will have to come out of the sandbox,” rather than “If you are throwing sand, we are all going home!”
  • Praise individually – When you praise a child, you should be praising for something they did NOT to curb their sibling.  As a parent, you don’t get to say “Wow Johnney, look how neatly you keep your room,” and then glare at his brother.  Clearly you are talking to the brother.  It’s not good to be either one in this scenario.  Clearly not good to be the one that got knocked but not good to be the one that got praise in spite of brother either.  There is pressure to stay on top or keep the other down, it is a seed of sibling rivalry.
  • When you don’t know what happened, start with what you do know – As you enter the room, two children are screaming over a ball and each is yelling they had it first.  Asking “Who had this first?” is often treading water.  You likely get two versions of the story that leave you back at the starting point.  Rather start by saying what you know, “I see you are upset about using this ball.  I am going to hold on to it for a minute while we figure out what to do next.”  Then focus your effort on helping them problem solve and move forward.
  • Often, it’s start with empathy all around -It can go a long way to calming a situation by remembering to give empathy to anyone in need before moving through discipline.  Remember to validate emotions, let them know you understand before moving forward.
  • Allow for their negative emotions – Building on empathy is actually allowing children to own and express their negative emotions.  Let’s say you hear your children arguing down the hall and a minute later one storms into the kitchen with an “I hate her!”  The answer is to start with empathy, validate the emotions behind the words and let the child know you understand before curbing the language.  This would sound like, “Wow!  You are angry, you don’t like it when she used your things!”  You might go on to explore this a bit and then can more effectively loop back around to curbing the words like a behavior “Those words were too hurtful.  Next time you can tell her you are mad or you can ask me for help (choices).  If I hear those words again, you will have to play in a separate area for the afternoon (logical consequences).”
  • It’s okay when discipline varies per child – Your discipline for hitting may be very different for your three year old than it is for your six year old and that is okay.  The mantra here is ‘fair is not equal, fair is everyone has their needs met.’  Discipline and expectations may vary based on personality, history, age and other variables.  You can explain to the six year old what you did when they were three or what you will do when the younger is six but the six year old may still see it as “not fair.”  This will make more sense to them when they become a parent.
  • Recognize when and why you might side with one more than another – Sometimes I find myself siding with my younger daughter more easily because I was the youngest in the family.  You might side with one more then the other based on spacing or personality traits or behavior patterns.  The idea is to recognize when this happens so you can keep things in check.

There are a few good parenting books on sibling issues.

  • Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish
  • The Birth Order Book by Leman
  • Birth Order Blues by Wallace

There are several good children’s books on sibling issues.

  • Do Like Kyla by Johnson
  • Julius Baby of the World by Henkes
  • I Love You the Purplest by Joosse
  • On Mother’s Lap by Scott
  • Siblings: You’re Stuck with Each Other so Stick Together by Christ
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