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Sibling Rivalry

Piling on the Praise Can Bring Peace to Sibling Rivalry

March 7, 2019     By Kris Hallstrom, Manager, Boys Town National Hotline

Behavior, Family, Healing Families, Parenting Skills, Positive Praise, Teaching Kindness

Sibling rivalry: two words that can strike fear in the hearts of every parent with more than one child.

Since ancient days (remember Cain and Abel?), siblings have picked on each other, argued, competed for the affection of their parents and fought outright like only brothers and sisters can.

And during that same time, parents have been frustrated, fatigued and flabbergasted by the battles their kids constantly wage against each other, at home and in public.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Boys Town has developed effective strategies for parents that can calm the waters of family strife and teach siblings how to get along and even be nice to each other.

At the top of the list of these strategies is recognizing and praising the positive behaviors your kids show toward each other (and everyone in the family). Your kids love your attention and praise, and they'll work hard to earn it. By frequently and consistently recognizing their good behaviors, you make it likely that your children will start using them more often and with genuine affection.

At Boys Town, we call this strategy Effective Praise. Here are the steps:

  1. Show your approval.
  2. Describe the positive behavior.
  3. Give a reason.
  4. Provide a reward.

Step 1 involves using words and actions to express your satisfaction. For example, saying "Amazing!" or "Fantastic!" while giving your child a thumbs-up or a hug adds excitement to the moment.

Step 2 involves making sure your child understands exactly what he or she did to deserve your praise. Praise what you saw or heard. This will motivate your child to repeat the behavior. For example, you could say, "Sarah, thanks so much for helping your little brother with his math homework. I know he really appreciates it."

Step 3 involves connecting the child's behavior to the consequences of receiving praise. This helps children understand that using positive behavior results in positive outcomes for them. For example, you could say, "When you can help your brother like that, it shows me that you are smart and can teach what you know to him."     

Step 4 can be added for exceptional behavior. Rewards can be large or small, and they don't have to cost money. Just giving your child a special privilege, like choosing a favorite food for dinner or having a friend stay overnight, can be reward enough!

Here are some tips for encouraging your kids to make getting along with each other a habit around your house. Remember to praise your kids whenever you see any of these things happening:

  • Teach your kids to see the good things their siblings do.
  • Have your kids share what they like about each other.
  • Have your kids tell you when one of their siblings uses a positive behaviors. (Think of this as "positive tattling.")
  • Explain to your kids that when they get along and are nice to each other, it makes you happy.
  • Ask an older sibling to help a younger brother or sister with a task. This lets the older child know you think he or she is good at something and can share that skill.
  • If one sibling is mean to another sibling, have the sibling who misbehaved do something nice for the other child (give a compliment, do an activity together). 

Of course, you still have to correct all those negative behaviors siblings will sometimes direct at each other, especially those that can be emotionally (or physically) harmful. But by consistently focusing on and praising their efforts to show how much they really care about each other, you can turn sibling rivalry into sibling revelry!

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