Sibling squabbles

Sibling squabbles

Have you ever uttered these words to your kids (because I have): "Would you two leave each other alone?"

Necessary at times, as when games turn into wrestling matches.

But it's not the best way to get them to actually like each other, says Laurie Kramer, a University of Illinois professor of applied family studies.

Kramer co-edited a special section of Child Development Perspectives devoted to sibling relationships. In a contributing article, Kramer says parents should concentrate more on all the positive things they can do to help their children get along.

"Even if you’re successful at reducing conflict and antagonism, research suggests that you’ll probably be left with little positive interaction between siblings. Do you really want your kids to head for their rooms and spend time mainly on their own interests and with their own friends?” she asks.

She urges parents to think about the relationship they want their kids to have with each other -- now and as adults -- and help them create that bond. If you love the idea of them spending time togther, schedule more family activities. If they fight a lot, help them learn strategies to solve problems.

"Most parents would like for their kids to be able to talk with each other, have fun together, and be a source of support for each other during stressful times in their lives,” she says.

This really hit home with me. I was blessed with three terrific siblings, and those bonds have become even more important now that we're older and dealing with life's curve balls. As an older mom, I want my children to have each other for support long after I'm gone.

Nothing delights me more than when one of them does something sweet for the other, without prodding from me. My daughter drawing a picture of herself holding hands with her brother. My son (who isn't known for his expressiveness) showing genuine joy for one of his sister's accomplishments.

Kramer's research has shown that siblings can learn skills that enable them to be more supportive brothers and sisters. She is the creator of the UI's More Fun with Sisters and Brothers program, for children ages 4 to 8.

Researchers have identified basic "social and emotional competencies" that predict good sibling relationships in that age group, Kramer says. They've broken them down into skills kids can use and work with them in fun ways using puppets, activity books, bedtime stories and the like.

Here are some tips for parents, based on that research:

-- Help your children learn to see things from their sibling’s perspective and to respect other people’s points of view.

-- Teach them to identify and manage their emotions and behaviors when they’re in frustrating situations. (It's OK to be upset, but let's talk about it instead of kicking your brother.)

-- Teach your kids not to assume the worst about their sibling’s or anyone else’s intentions. (Your brother does not really hate you.)

-- Show them that conflict is a problem that can be solved and teach them how to do it. (You can take turns.)

·-- Try to meet each child’s unique needs without showing favoritism.

-- Teach them to use their unique knowledge of each other to strengthen their bond rather than taking advantage of each other’s weaknesses.

-- Promote play, conversation, mutual interests and fun.

-- Praise your kids when they help, support and cooperate with each other.

Next time you break up a fight, follow through with these steps: make sure each one understands what the fight is about. Have them practice telling their own viewpoint, then take the other person's perspective. Then help them brainstorm different ways to solve the problem so they're both happy.

Kramer calls it  the "stop, think, and talk" rule, the phrase they use in the brothers and sisters program: stop the impulsive behavior and gain control of your emotions; think about what's happening, and why; and then talk to each other about it.

"Helping your children acquire these skills does take time and energy, but they soon become part of family life. Besides, your efforts will have lasting benefits. Your kids are developing positive ways of dealing with others that will be useful outside the family as well,” Kramer says.

It's also important for parents to model the behavior they want their children to learn, Kramer says. If you think it's important to stay calm during an argument and talk things out, then behave that way yourself, she says. The kids are watching.

The More Fun with Sisters and Brothers program is offered on Saturdays at the UI's Family Resiliency Center. Families with two or more siblings can take part, though it's not currently operating. Future sessions will be advertised in The News-Gazette, or information is available on the Family Resiliency Center's web site.

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