Squashing Sibling Squabbles During COVID-19

Arguments and rivalry between siblings is inevitable, but has become more challenging than ever amid the close confines of forced quarantine. Kids are missing their friends, teachers, and structured activities. In addition to all of the losses of routines, anticipated events, and socialization, kids are struggling with having little to look forward to, as the outcome of this pandemic is still unknown.

For many children, boredom is ramping up as the social isolation drags on. All of this can lead to increased problem behavior between siblings. Yelling, annoying, blaming, controlling the play, tattling, and even aggression between siblings may be more present than ever.

If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that these behaviors are driving everyone in the house crazy and bringing parents’ stress levels to an all-time high.

Children need many things from their parents, but emotionally, they primarily need attention, recognition, understanding, and devoted time alone with each parent. This can be hard to accommodate at a time when parents are under extreme stress themselves and have less time than ever to meet all the demands. So, we have a few tips to support your kids relationships and reduce sibling rivalry during quarantine.

Give voice to each child’s experiences

This might mean acknowledging and addressing complaints about aggression and problematic behavior between siblings, without clearly taking sides or fixing the problem for them. It might also mean empowering each child to set limits with their sibling and disengage from play if it becomes conflicted. A great way to do this is to name your child’s feeling of sadness, disappointment, or hurt and explain the basis of those feelings out loud for the benefit of the other child. For example, “I see that you’re sad because Charlie won’t let you have a turn picking the game.

Encourage activities involving collaboration

Setting your kids up for success might look like avoiding activities that you know lead to conflict and frustration. For example, limiting the frequency of competitive play like structured games, video games, or pretend fighting. Instead, encourage your kids to work together on projects like Legos, baking, or building a fort. This will reduce the likelihood that they provoke each other.

Help your kids decide ahead of time how they will handle challenging situations that might come up during competitive play. For example, give them the words to set a limit and to walk away if the play becomes too rough or unfair. It helps to role-play these situations by pretending to be the annoying sibling.

Teach and practice emotional regulation

Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain is an awesome way to teach kids about emotional regulation. This technique helps kids understand that when they feel stressed or angry they begin to “flip their lid.” Once they start to recognize when their lid is going up, it makes it easier to coach them to calm down so their “thinking brain” can come back online.

Whenever you hear that that your kids are starting to escalate, you can point out “I think your lid is starting to pop up. What can we do to help you calm down and put your thinking brain back in charge?”

Offer ideas like using a chillout spot to calm down, walk away, do some jumping jacks, take some deep breaths, or get busy doing something else. Once your kids are calm, you can help them engage in a conversation about the conflict and figure out a solution like a compromise, a new idea for an activity, or time apart. It’s a great idea to reward kids for practicing their self-control through either a token economy system and or lots of praise. Overall, this helps children to develop a sense of empathy and a respect for how their siblings feel.

Benefits of Sibling Rivalry

While kids fighting often makes no sense to us adults, there are actually benefits to sibling rivalry. For the sibling that instigates argument, benefits include getting more attention from distracted parents, getting a break from boredom by annoying a sibling when nothing else is going on, or feeling powerful, especially in the powerlessness we all feel time in this situation. Sometimes kids start a conflict to connect with their sibling who may not be paying attention to them, or to get physical contact from that sibling.

In addition to these benefits, children actually learn important life skills through arguing with their siblings. They learn how to read others’ emotions and handle different personalities. Our siblings are often our first and longest lasting intimate relationships, and teach us about being a friend.

They learn strategies to manage conflict, resolve differences, and deal with struggles for power. With support, they can learn tactics to negotiate, to develop compromises, and to be assertive when standing up for their own needs or feelings.

So take a breath and relax. In the long run, the increased time together during this pandemic may lead to siblings being more connected and learning new ways to play cooperatively together.

For more tips on handling sibling conflict read a blog from our clinical director, Kelly Guidry. If the squabbles seem out of control even with these tips, reach out to us for a consult! We’d love to help.

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