7 ways to help your kids get along better

By: Shannon Christie

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©


7 ways to help your kids get along better

By: Shannon Christie
Whether your kids are related by blood or are siblings in a blended family, disagreements are inevitable when there are multiple children under one roof. 

No matter why the kids clash, it can be frustrating for parents who worry that the roots of friendship can't possibly thrive on the battleground of sibling rivalry. But fear not: You can help to minimize or avoid arguments with a few simple steps.

We spoke with Betsy Mann, an Ottawa-based certified Canadian family educator, about how to curtail cantankerous behaviours and encourage camaraderie among all of the kids in your home.

1. Manage your expectations
Since most siblings argue, parents should keep expectations reasonable when it comes to how they think their children should interact.

"The reality is that if you have multiple children under the age of five, you can expect some kind of dispute approximately every six minutes -- not always of the hair-pulling variety, but some sort of flare up," says Mann. "So understand that the road is long."

Start with some simple strategies, such as getting your duelling duo to help each other, share toys and work on playing quietly together.

2. Avoid comparisons between siblings 

One of the most important rules of household harmony is ensuring you never let one child feel that he or she is better or worse than the other.

"Never play one off the other, no matter how tempted you are to say 'Look how well your brother is doing, why can't you be more like him?'" advises Mann. "Kids do that naturally, so don't feed into it. After all, why would you like someone you're constantly having to compete against?"

3. Play games where everyone wins
Teenagers can handle competition, but younger kids will have a harder time with it, says Mann. "A cooperative game where we all win or lose together encourages everyone to help each other, rather than cheat," she explains.

The best part is you can turn any game into a cooperative one. "The game is over when everyone gets to the finish line, so it's no big deal to be first," says Mann. Remind your children that in your family you all help each other out. The oldest can help the youngest and vice versa.
4. Rely on routines

If you find that arguments regularly occur around who sits where in the car, who gets what first or who gets to sit beside a parent at dinner time, implement a standard routine.

"People in childcare use this technique all the time. They rotate special days for passing the snack, or to decide whose turn it is to sit beside the adult at story time," Mann says. "When it's decided by a neutral third party it removes conflict. It's not Mommy or Daddy's choice; it's the calendar that tells us."

5. Set aside some special one-on-one time
Children will often push for territory, for a place and space that is just for them within the family. Make life easier by providing each child with something to call his own.

"Even if they share bedrooms it's important to make a space for them, whether it's a shelf or an area that is clearly theirs," Mann advises. Kids will also often vie for a parent's attention. "Avoid this by having a set time where each child gets time alone with a parent, and when his siblings can't come and interrupt," she says.

6. Don't let boredom incite an argument
When there's nothing to do and no attention being paid to them, kids will pick fights with one another. These types of arguments are nothing to worry about, says Mann.

"Rivalry doesn't always have to erupt into conflict, and sometimes the fighting is a game itself," she explains. "For example, in the car if they are bored, kids will pick a fight and all of a sudden there is some excitement, they're getting their parents' attention and that's a big payoff."

If you know your children will be looking for something to do, bring along something to keep them busy, whether it's books, DVD players or games the whole family can play together.

7. Share your own story with your kids

Sometimes it can be helpful for parents to share specific stories from their own childhoods to show that they empathize with their children and have been through similar situations with their own siblings, Mann advises. "Stories from books are also great, or anything you can recall about other children who learned to get along, share and respect each other," she says.
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7 ways to help your kids get along better