How to get siblings to stop fighting by emphasizing maturity – Yu-kai Chou: Gamification & Behavioral Design


You give your younger child some strawberries.

“I want strawberries too!” shouts the older child.

You give your older child some strawberries.

“Her strawberries are bigger than mine!” screams the older child.

This dynamic between siblings can be incredibly frustrating. In my conversation with Michaeleen, author of Hunt, Gather, Parent, she admits that the topic of siblings can be a whole other book of its own. It’s funny because Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish expressed a similar statement in their book Siblings Without Rivalry (which is an amazing book as well).

So how can we get siblings to cooperate instead of compete?

It all start with Responsibility.

If a child is acting out, don’t punish, give them more responsibilities

I forgot which book emphasized the above statement, but it’s so true. When a child is acting out, the best cure is to give them more responsibilities.

This works wonders in our own household. Whenever our 5-year-old is acting out, then we ask her to help us with the household chores.

Whenever our 3 year-old is acting out, we ask her to help fold some towels.

Giving them responsibility grounds them — it makes them feel that they are positively contributing to the family. It makes them understand that their role is not just to be a child, but that they are expected to do their part as well.

Ultimately, Responsibility leads to maturity.

“You’re such a big girl.”

The greatest compliment that I have ever given my 5-year-old is, “wow, you’re such a big girl.” She just absolutely beamed when I told her that.

Little kids want to be like the grown ups, which is why you can utilize this innate drive to teach them Responsibility.

Think about it. When your child was a toddler, they wanted to follow you around and do everything that you’re doing. If you were folding laundry, they wanted to fold laundry with you; if you were cooking, they wanted to cook with you as well.

And honestly, it makes your work twice, maybe three times as hard. You fold something, they unfold it. You tell them to add a dash of salt, then smash the salt with their hand. But this drive to help is a great opportunity to instill Responsibility in your children.

You are your siblings caretaker

The best way to get your siblings to stop fighting is to teach them that they’re each others caretakers. Some examples:

  1. When you’re changing the baby’s diaper, ask your older child to get you the diaper.
  2. When your younger child is getting a snack, remind them to get one for their older sibling.
  3. When you need to step out of the room, ask your older child to watch over the younger sibling.
  4. When the younger child is crying, ask your older child to come and calm the baby together.

There are so many opportunities to instill collaboration instead of competition.

When the child helps the sibling, respond with, “Wow, what a big girl [or boy].”

Emphasize that they’re being mature. It’s what they crave.

What to do when there is sibling friction

Let’s say your older child doesn’t want to share their snack with the younger sibling. You can respond with:

  • Awww… poor thing. Look how sad the little sibling is.
  • If you were your little sibling and your older sibling didn’t give you a snack, how would you feel?
  • Oh, I get it. You’re not sharing because you’re a baby.

All of these phrases teaches the sibling Empathy.

If you were to punish the child for not sharing, they would not learn Empathy. They would learn that life is unfair, that their parents always favor their younger sibling. And if they start to develop this spite for the younger sibling, then they’ll develop a sibling rivalry.

This is why it’s important to teach collaboration instead of competition.

After some thought, I’m expanding the GrACE framework to GRACE in order to include Responsibility:

  • Growth Mindset: The base from which everything grows and develops. Children need to believe that they can get better through practice.
  • Responsibility: The basis to teach maturity. The daily practice and routine that solves tantrums, sibling rivalries, and sets them up for success.
  • Autonomy: A child that is given responsibilities will learn Autonomy. They will learn to do things on their own at the right time. They will learn to set the table without being asked, to do the dishes without being asked.
  • Confidence: A child that can act independently, without the need to be told what to do is learning self confidence. They’re learning that they are smart, they are capable, and that their contributions matter.
  • Empathy: A child that is self confident, that truly loves themselves, can then master Empathy. One cannot love another unless they love themselves first.

This article was written by Jun Loayza, creator of the Dad Smarter Not Harder podcast. Jun and Yu-kai work together on Metablox and Octalysis Prime.

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