Sibling relationships are tough, and spats between brothers and sisters can be especially epic. If it’s not about who has the purple cup, it’s about who has the most pterodactyl-shaped chicken nuggets. Or it’s about who gets more time in the bathroom, or which show to watch. There’s nothing — absolutely nothing — off limits when it comes to brother and sister battles. And at times, it’s the parents who feel like they’ve become a casualty of war.
But cheer up. If you have a girl and a boy, you might actually be starting a rung or two higher than your friends with same-sex siblings. “Co-ed is typically easier than same-sex siblings because same-sex siblings tend to breed more jealousy,” says Dr. Gail Gross, a nationally recognized family and child development expert and psychologist (as well as a mother herself).
Despite this so-called “easier” relationship, you’re still going to have your moments. So Dr. Gross has some tips to help co-ed siblings get along, all while developing strong sibling relationships:
Show, Don’t Tell
Your relationship with your partner is what your children will model their relationships on. That means if you and your partner yell and scream at each other, then your children will learn that’s acceptable behavior during conflict, even if you tell them it’s not.
“Your child is learning social behaviors every time they see you interact,” Dr. Gross says. “Parents have to show they’re each other’s biggest allies — that no matter what, they support each other. They might not always agree with each other, but the way they’re solving the problem is supportive, empathetic and respectful.”
How to do it: When you’re both calm, talk to your partner about your fighting style, what you might be portraying to your children and how to change that behavior to model more positive actions. (Bonus: You might end up with a happier relationship too!)
Remember, You’re Not the Referee
You’re the parent. In other words, don’t be so quick to get involved in your childrens’ spats. As long as there’s no physical contact between the kids, Dr. Gross says she would be reluctant to intervene. Instead, give your children the tools to solve issues without getting in the middle of every conflict.
And if they’re still arguing, for instance, about what show to watch, give them a time limit to figure out the issue on their own or turn it off. That type of punishment — in which both parties ultimately lose — teaches kids to team up, Dr. Gross says.
How to do it: Dr. Gross and her family held weekly meetings during which each member of the family talked about issues they had during the week, without interruption. Afterwards, she’d have the aggrieved parties talk about how they should have handled the situation, what they wished they’d done differently and what a good disciplinary action would’ve been.
That way, when the next conflict arose — and her children turned to her to run interference — she would simply remind them of what they had agreed on at the last family meeting. “What you’re teaching them is consequences, responsibility and problem-solving,” she says.
Find Ways to Foster Collaboration
Finding creative ways to draw your children together goes far to create a feeling of being a team, Dr. Gross says.
How to do it: Try collaborative chores so they have to work together as a team to complete them. Anything from washing the car to doing the dishes work, Dr. Gross says. Another family collaboration she teamed her kids up for every year was choosing a family vacation. Dr. Gross and her husband would come up with three places they wanted to visit, and her children would have the ultimate responsibility of choosing one. “But they had to agree,” she says.
And if you’re looking for toys to keep both kids entertained, take a look at the 18 Best Gender Neutral Toys.