As anyone with more than one child knows, bickering and competition between siblings is pretty much a given, no matter how old they are. When you're parenting across a wide age range, or in a very large family, those squabbles can be a near-daily occurrence.
Mary Ostyn, who blogs about her home life at Owlhaven, is an author and a homeschooling mother of 10 children, age 21 to 3, six of whom are adopted from Korea and Ethiopia. Eight of them still live at home. I asked her how she manages the inevitable squabbles.
"I usually give consequences to both children who fight, since it always takes two to fight, and it is usually hard for me to sort out who is more to blame," she told me. "In a case where blame is obvious, I'll assign that child to complete a job for the hurt child, which is a big deterrent. I also remind myself that sibling relationships are a long-term project. Most of us don't really appreciate our siblings until we are grown." Proof positive, she says, is seen in the way her oldest daughters developed a whole new appreciation for their younger brothers after some time away at college. "That gives me hope for the future with the younger ones," she says.
Mary's book, A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, was released this spring. "Don't be too discouraged if it seems to take years for sibling relationships to grow," she advises.
In her book, she describes some of the tactics she uses to quell disagreements and nurture relationships between her children. "Some kids have a hard time admitting their own part in a disagreement," she points out. "With a child like that, it is often more productive to ask the child to forgive than to say sorry. Saying sorry is an extremely difficult thing to do in the heat of anger."
Another tried-and-true method: Urging kids to just back off. "Disengage. Step back," Mary advises. It's "a perfect response for anyone when they're realizing a loved one is starting to lose it."
Having your older kids help out with your younger ones from time to time can enhance their relationship -- or, at least, teach the big kids a valuable lesson. "They learn to be more nurturing, and the little kids learn from the example of the bigger ones," Mary points out. "I also joke that having kids at different stages and maturity levels means that there's never a time where everyone is mad at me at once!"
You can read more of my interview with Mary at Write.Edit.Repeat., but weigh in with your wisdom here: How do you deal with squabbles and sibling rivalry in your household?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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