Making the most of the summer and managing sibling fighting
6 tips to help parents for summer and beyond
By Leah Persky, PhD & CFLE • Manager of Family Life Education
Parents spend countless hours planning for summer. The mad dash to register for the right camp at the right time with the right friends. It is really a labor of love and takes so much patience, research and money! The process of planning out summer for my kids and my family always reminds me of how short summer is and how I don’t want to miss out on anything.
This past week, I have also been reminded of how long an afternoon can feel. We took our summer family trip to visit family and spent a lot of hours together in the car. The fighting and general feeling of discontent that took over at certain times made time feel like it was passing very slowly! As much as I love summer and want to maximize time together and enjoy fun activities, all I really wanted at that moment was to sit alone in a quiet room for an hour! If you have felt some variation of these feelings, know that you are not alone. While that might not help that much in the moment, there are certain things we can do to cope with these challenges that are part of life and families spending a lot of time together.
It is totally normal for siblings to fight, bicker and just generally not be nice to each other. Bickering and fighting siblings are so normal that they are a cliche; they are also not a reflection of your parenting. One of the first things I tell parents dealing with sibling troubles who come to me for parent coaching is that it is not your fault – let go of any guilt you might be experiencing around siblings not getting along or about not doing enough to make your kids have an amazing summer.
Here are a few suggestions about how to manage sibling rivalry during the summer and beyond:
- Shift your perspective. Realize that sibling fighting is natural, normal and an important learning experience for your kids. It helps them to build communication skills and deal with conflict. This approach also means that parents do not have to involve themselves in all of the disagreements and fights. If no one is being harmed, physically or mentally, then you can ignore the fight. I repeat – you can and should avoid most sibling fights! Often, kids want the attention of their parent or caregiver and if you don’t reward that behavior, it may lessen. This approach also will let kids develop some coping skills on their own. Note that some siblings just fight more than others, so comparing your family to others is not helpful. Know that if you have kids that are close in age, of the same gender, and/or have similar interests or friends, your kids will be more likely to fight or bicker with each other. This type of fighting lessens over time, but the more similarities the kids have with one another, the more they tend to fight.
- Separate the kids. Being together for long periods of time, whether in the car, home, or some other place, can lead to a perfect set-up for sibling fighting. While it is often recommended that kids should be bored sometimes because it is good for them, also recognize that boredom can lead to increased fighting. If you know you will have a long day together, think about how you may divide the kids up to spend time apart. Separate screens, rows, rooms, or plan time alone with one parent or caregiver. This can go a long way to reducing fights. Planning time for kids to regularly spend time alone with an important adult in their life is also a good practice to get into and can be lots of fun and so much easier than bringing the whole family along.
- Understand the patterns around the fighting or bickering. Does it always happen at the same time of day? Times of transition can be a challenge and so can long stretches of time at home (you know your kids always demonstrate their worst behavior at home and with their siblings)! Being proactive about these times can be helpful. If you know that the time just before dinner is difficult, think about how to set up separate activities for the kids during that period. You may find you can avoid some of the conflict, or at least be mindful of it and expect it.
- Trust yourself, you know your kids best. As noted above, sibling rivalry and fighting is normal. It can take many forms and be really aggravating, but it is still normal. However, there are signs that the fighting is going beyond what is considered “normal.” That would include one sibling always being the aggressor, one child being fearful of another, and/or one or more of your kids getting physically or emotionally hurt. Knowing the baseline and normal for each of your children goes a long way here. When one of your children seems afraid of or intensely jealous or hateful of their sibling in a way that causes them to be dysregulated for more than a few weeks, you will want to take action. Trust your instincts on this and know that seeking professional help through a therapist or parent coach can go a long way.
- Set yourself up for success. Know that your idealized dreams of summer often don’t match up with the reality of everyday life. As stated above, knowing your kids can go a long way. Creating a schedule with just enough activity and down time is crucial for a successful summer. Keeping things as simple as possible is my mantra this summer. I overscheduled last summer and that was not fun for anyone. In addition to knowing your kids, take time to realize what you want out of this summer. Making time for yourself and setting up your days so they will work for you and your kids is crucial.
- Focus on what YOU need/want now. While we want our kids to enjoy the summer, for that to happen we have to feel good about it too. While that won’t mean the summer will be easy, letting go of the guilt associated with creating a magical summer for your kids and stepping back from the sibling fighting can go a long way. Maybe there is a trip, museum, activity, or restaurant you want to experience before the end of summer. Or maybe you are craving some down time, a day away, or simply watching movies at home. Identify those things and see what you can make happen. Not all summer activities need to be focused on what the kids want. Ask a trusted friend or neighbor to help watch the kids, trade sitting with a friend, or enroll the kids in an activity to provide a bit more time for you. Taking care of you will make you the best parent you can be.
If you need help managing sibling fighting or setting up a plan to make the most of this summer with your family, please contact me. I am the parent coach at JFCS and available to meet with you, so don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the easy interest form for you complimentary 30 minutes consultation: https://jfcsmpls.org/parent-coaching-interest-form/
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