The life and times of a home schooling mom of se7en + 1.

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Se7en Tips on Surviving Sibling Rivalry…

May 8th, 2009 · 24 Comments

A question that popped up in our comments a short while ago was how to deal with sibling rivalry… and the endless squabbling… My kids aren’t saints and we have our fair share of squabbles but my first thought is:

Well rested, well fed and lots of fresh air seems to do away with about 99% of all squabbles, not to mention the silliness which leads directly to squabbles. Seriously it is that simple! When my kids haven’t had enough sleep or fresh air then I really have to divide to conquer and when they miss a snack, for any reason, the wheels can totally come off.

It is a terrifying thing that these three are pretty much up to me and me being disciplined enough to ensure that these basic needs are met.

Otherwise here are se7en tips that have helped us in the “he touched me, she’s humming, he breathed my air…” scenarios…

Firstly if you are a reader and you like reading parenting books then this is the one to read on Sibling rivalry.


A lot of our sibling rivalry is dealt with long before the new arrival arrives and I spoke about it in the post: Se7en Things People Ask Me About Siblings.


  1. Don’t compare: I read “Siblings without Rivalry when I was preparing for our first sibling and it made so much sense. The point that stands out for me after all this time is “don’t compare.” We all know not to label these guys but don’t compare has been a brilliant mantra to keep rotating round in my head. All of our kids have different strengths and weaknesses. I have some that are really good at some tasks like math and cleaning toilets! And others aren’t. But to say: “I wish you would make your bed like your brother” or “You never help like your sister” are statements that are just not relationship builders and they are really unlikely to help your kids grow up and want to visit each other on weekends.
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  3. Don’t treat them equally: Unless your children are all called Dolly and they are sheep they are not equal and they do not want to be treated so. I live in terror of folk who want to give my kids se7en of the same items – it’s kind of freaky since they are se7en unique individuals. A treat from the book store might be a 300 page epic for one kid and a comic for another… A treat out for ice-cream might be lemon sorbet for one and rum and raisin for another – giving everyone vanilla means nobodies thrilled and to give everyone lemon sorbet or rum and raisin is just mean. I am not just talking about stuff. Some kids need more snacks, some need more sleep – to have an across the board rule is unfair and not acknowledging them for who they are.
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  5. But Be Fair: Our kids love to run errands with the father person, but they can’t all go with him every time – we don’t make everyone stay home to be equal and we don’t have an outing roster either! It is random but fair and everyone gets one on one time with him over the period of a week. Some kids need a whole lot more help with their school than others… I could treat them equally, 30 minutes of my time every couple of hours or I could just help whoever needs my help at the time… lingering with those that need me more and making sure that everyone’s school is done by lunchtime. It is fair to help little people with their laces so that everyone can be ready for an outing on time. It wouldn’t be fair to tie everyone’s laces! That being said I think nothing of getting something special for one kidlet of mine and not for six others. In the spirit of treating them equally this may not seem fair, in the reality of life it is! Everyone’s turn will come up and I want my kids to revel and be thrilled when something fantastic happens to a sibling. At the same time the recipient is expected to be gracious and if it is shareable then share. I’ve never heard “That’s not fair” or Where’s mine” I don’t think they realize it’s an option.
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  7. Tattle Tails: Kids really need to learn how to deal with issues and day to day confrontations. My kids love to come and tell me: “So and so is being naughty and would I sort them out?” Guess what, I am not going to get caught in the middle and intervene here! Usually I turn it round and say back to them what I understand the problem to be… at which stage its a good opportunity to ask how they would like to resolve it. It can get much worse: And they hysterically demand instant punishment (of the mortal wound variety!!!) for the alleged perpetrator… at which stage I totally turn it around and suggest that: said perpetrator is obviously battling with this problem and how can they, the accuser, help the perpetrator through this troubled time!” If they are still hanging around (and often it just isn’t worth the mother person messing with your mind in this way) then very often this so distracts them from the apparent problem that the problem resolves itself on its own anyway.
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  9. That One Toy: We do have the odd toy fight over a particularly rare piece of Lego, or book fights over someone’s current favorite that they have claimed – but these never ever last long… It’s really quite simple if there is a toy squabble of any kind then that toy gets removed from the “pit” and if the squabble continues then the item lands directly in the “to donate bag” which is kept behind the front door… ether way it is not good to be the toy left unpacked or the toy most squabbled over in this house! Along the lines of Toy squabbles… I will not tolerate any snatching it will win you a trip to the couch without a single warning – you snatch or grab and you walk! (The couch is our terrible threat spot where people who need to reflect on their behavior need to sit for a while to recover themselves!!!).


  10. Baby is King: This one works for us and I have people look at me totally appalled by it! Where is the fairness in this – Life isn’t fair get over it! I expect that if a baby wants a toy it gets given it… older kids can surely understand that that a baby has a short attention span and they can swap a toy out or distract but they may not snatch, grab or take-away… This might sound a bit harsh towards the two year-old vs nine month old… but all my kids have learnt to be very generous hearted towards babies from a very early age (siblings arrive thick and fast around here!). I cannot stand to hear a child cry especially a tiny person, it totally sets my teeth on edge… worse than chalk screeching on a board. They have all learnt pretty quickly not to be the one causing misery to a younger sibling
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  12. Work Together: And finally the wheels do fall off from time to time… It is usually when they get silly just before a meal (ahhh – feed them!) or just just before bed (rest them!) or after a morning indoors (fresh air!)… and the silliness that seemed so funny to start quickly turns to misery and bickering… Now I can step in at the start and redirect but I am not always there and before you know it there is a “full blown situation.” Well my theory is that tired from “a job well-done” kids are happy kids so I gather the culprits together and provide them with a task that they have to work together to complete… sweep leaves: one holds the bag one scoops… Praise the Lord for leaves, sweep the driveway (not a small task!) give one the broom and one the dustpan… wash windows (for big guys) give one the cleaner and the other the newspaper… You get the idea, within moments of starting the task they tend to get on with the job and become firm friends working towards a common goal. Often it takes longer than moments with one stubborn heart taking longer than most – but eventually they come through and the job gets done. Nothing like working hard together to on a physical project to get people absorbed and refocused!

It can be overwhelming to think that these three basic needs: food, rest and fresh air, are pretty much fulfilled (or not) depending on how disciplined and focused I am. In fact it is a bit of a reality check to any new mom!!! What keeps me going and on the straight and narrow so to speak, is knowing that it is easier to provides sandwiches, rests and running for fun than sorting out disputes… really I know which I would rather be doing any day!!!

I popped this post onto the Works For Me Wednesday Site – go and have a look there for all sorts of tips on absolutely anything.

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Tags: Kids · Thoughtful Thursdays

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 teresa // May 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    this was the one i was waiting for lol love it even though i have 4 kids i never dreamed of making them work together doing a chore ever the optimist ill give it a try.

  • 2 Tammy // May 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Amazing!….thank you!

  • 3 gretchen from lifenut // May 8, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    I agree completely with this list, even #6! I feel guilty about it, but I find myself telling the older kids to give in to Beatrix’s crazy demands. The toy/book she wants will be forgotten in 10 minutes, so why not?

    She’ll be expected to do the same when Archie is older. It all works out and it doesn’t spoil the younger kids.

  • 4 se7en // May 8, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Hi T, So glad I could help!!! Don’t think they are going to leap for joy at the thought of a combined chore… but keep at it and you will be amazed when they realize you mean it! have a great and peaceful weekend!!!

  • 5 se7en // May 8, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Hay T, Glad you liked it. Have a fabulous weekend with those gorgeous boys of yours!

  • 6 se7en // May 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Hi G, So glad to have you visiting our spot! Even #6! It really does work though and even our youngest one is very generous to little ones younger than herself and will happily pass toys to all the babies at church on a Sunday morning… I always worried about what would happen to the last in the series and thought we would have to just keep on having more (no problem there!). Somehow as you go down the line they tend to pick up expectations quicker and easier!!!

  • 7 Jessica // May 9, 2009 at 12:15 am

    This sounds a lot like our house! Like you, we take turns taking them on outings with us, but there is no set rotation for that. Most of the time, I can just tell when one of them is needing a little more time from me and then that one gets to go with me, or does something special with me (like taking their nap in my room with me, etc.)
    And needing fresh air–that’s a BIG one here also.
    Everything you listed in this post are examples of our house as well. My children are never jealous of the babies and they bend over backward to keep the baby happy and no one complains about having to sacrifice for the baby. (Now having to sacrifice for the others is not quite as easy for them!)
    I have also found that working together also keeps them from complaining about having to work as well as from bickering with each other. It is more fun to have someone to work with, and if they are with someone else they communicate to complete the task. Whereas when they are alone they are more likely to complain. (Working on this!)
    We are still working on the fairness issue because they do tend to whine sometimes when one gets to do something another one doesn’t, but our feelings are the generally the same as yours–we don’t have to do exactly the same for every single one of them! I may come home with a new pair of shoes for one or two or however many of them and I expect the others not to complain that they didn’t get anything. I explain that that one may have needed the item, or I happened to find a good deal only in that one’s size, etc. or whatever the case may be, and that they have had their turns when they got a treat the others didn’t. It is still a work in progress, but like you said, their time will come and they need to learn to be happy for their siblings. I heard someone say once something to the effect of: "I love you all equally, so I treat you all uniquely." I’m not sure those are the exact words but anyway, they apply here!
    Thanks for your post!

  • 8 se7en // May 9, 2009 at 12:46 am

    Hi J, I love that quote – doesn’t it sum everything up in a nutshell. Thanks for stopping by it is so nice to hear from you again! I hope you all have a great weekend!

  • 9 Jenny // May 14, 2009 at 8:16 pm


  • 10 katherine@raisingfive // Jul 31, 2009 at 1:48 am

    Yes, rest, food and fresh air. Even with older children, I find that when I direct these things more consistently (even when they “appear” to have a handle on such basics) they are much more pleasant to live with. Thanks for such an awesome post!

    I do hope I get to visit SA some day (perhaps with some of my children!) and that I will have the pleasure of meeting you and your sweet family!


  • 11 se7en // Jul 31, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Hi K, We do what we have to do to survive!!! Sometimes I am a bit off the pace and try complicate things but really if I just stick to the basics then we tend to run a whole lot more smoothly. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you all got the chance to visit. You just make sure you put Cape Town into you itinerary if you ever make it all the way across land and sea to South Africa. Hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

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  • 13 Kath // Jan 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    I am so with you on the food, sleep, fresh air thing! The one thing i struggle with is lets say you give them the task of washing windows invariably they will both want to spray and if you allocate the task then the one who “loses out” doesnt want to cooperate or grumbles and if you take in turns all they focus on is waiting for their turn at which point i wish i had never suggested washing windows!! Any tips??

  • 14 se7en // Jan 29, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Hi Kath, I am having a little chuckle at your dilemma… “hair tearing out stuff” I dare say, but try and rise above. They are learning a lot about interacting!!! What I do is set my kids a task and leave them to it. The focus is that they get the task done…together… now!!! I sent all of mine outdoors yesterday: They each had to bring me a full garbage bag of leaves… there was no “I’m finished and off I go here” they all had to be finished together and snappy. The big guys had to help the little guys and it was a bigger task than they anticipated… by the end of twenty minutes work they were all happy and working together and had quite forgotten that they weren’t getting along at the start. Clearly window washing requires a more co-opertive atmosphere… save it till they are getting along!!! Try and have a good week!!!

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  • 17 Kiasa // Aug 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    You know what’s awesome?! I was thinking “I need some tools in my toolbox to deal with sibling rivalry. I should see if se7en has any tips.” And, of course, you did. OF COURSE! You are my heroine!

    My three kids are 5, 2, & 8 mos. And the squabbling/screaming has recently started. I’ve “lost it” a couple of times this week and all I can think about is that’s how my parents reacted to us as kids and how it was pretty awful. So more, tools are needed for my mama toolbox. THANK YOU!!! You are one of my few mama mentors!!! I love you!

  • 18 se7en // Aug 13, 2011 at 1:44 am

    Oh Kiasa!!! So very glad to help!!! I love looking at your photos of city life!!! Hope you have a fun weekend with your kiddo’s despite the squabbles and the squabbles!!!

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