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Social distancing is stressful for everyone—there's no way around it. And as difficult as it can be, it becomes even harder when you have multiple children. Healthy sibling relationships require thoughtful parenting and care even under the best of circumstances. Add in non-stop togetherness, stretched-thin parents and kids going stir-crazy from being trapped at home, and sibling tensions can begin to reach new (and unpleasant) heights.

These 7 easy-to-use strategies can help siblings get along better and ease the tensions in your home during social distancing:

1. Create a family marble jar

Sibling tensions often rise when kids compete against each other to get parental attention or other needs. With a marble jar, kids work together towards a common goal.

Start by setting a few sibling goals (think: sharing, using kind words, offering to help) and a family reward, like pizza night, sleepover in the living room or double dessert day. Whenever you see a child demonstrating a goal behavior, praise the child and put a marble in the family jar. Encourage kids to "report" on each other by telling you when a sibling has earned a marble with good behavior (but don't allow self-reporting—it gets hard, to be honest).

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When kids start to fight, rather than reprimand them, remind them you're looking for kind behaviors so they can earn their reward. When the jar is full, everyone gets the prize. Although it may take a few days to break their old habits, kids soon realize that they get more out of being kind than arguing.

2. Use timers to support sharing

Doesn't it seem like kids always want the same toy at the exact same moment? Although it can be frustrating, it's also a great teachable moment. Explain that everyone gets to use family toys, so we need to be kind and take turns. Then, use a timer to help ensure each child gets the same amount of time.

When parents monitor sharing, we often get distracted and forget to have the first child share the toy at the promised time. A timer keeps everyone on track and, eventually, kids can learn to track turns themselves. Visual timers (like hourglass timers) work best with little kids who may not know numbers yet.

3. Model self-advocacy with self-talk

When kids begin to battle, parents often jump in to resolve disputes. Although this approach stops the fight, it doesn't teach kids how to manage the issue, and the next time the issue arises, they're likely to end up fighting again.

It can be far more useful to walk kids through how to handle disagreements with self-talk. In self-talk, an adult gives suggestions on how to handle a situation by "thinking out loud" to themselves. For example, if your daughter is complaining that she wants to use the markers her brother has, prompt, "If I wanted a marker, I'd say 'Can I have the red, please?'" Self-talk teaches kids what to say without talking for them. It also limits battles between children and parents.

Direct instruction ("If you want the marker, just ask him") often leads to arguments ("I know he won't share with me! He never does!"). Self-talk puts an idea into the world, but allows your child to decide whether to use it.

4. Build in daily physical activity

To help keep tensions low, ensure kids have a daily dose of physical activity. In addition to exercise being good for little bodies, it helps relieve tension while improving moods. Make sure you find ways to let your little ones burn energy every day—even if you're stuck inside and it's just a vigorous game of head, shoulders, knees and toes!

5. Keep kids on a schedule

While being stuck at home can make days feel long and lazy, sadly, as we all know, this isn't actually a vacation. You're probably tired of hearing it by now, but to help kids get through the days, it really is best to keep them on a daily schedule or routine. Ensure they're eating healthy foods at consistent times. Make sure they still get to bed on time. These routines help bodies feel healthy, and that's an important component of good moods—everyone is grumpier when they're tired and hungry.

6. Create individualized break areas

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, being quarantined means kids are going to be tired of each other. Give children their own spaces for times when they just need a break.

Even in small homes you can still find a way to make an individualized spot for each child. If your children have their own rooms, create a break spot in one corner. If they share a room, it may be a spot next to the dresser or in front of the bed. It could also be in your bedroom or under the kitchen table. The goal is to make sure it's a safe space, it's just for one child, and it's accessible anytime they need a break. If it has cozy materials (pillows, stuffed animals, blankets), even better!

When your kids start getting frustrated with one another, remind them about their break areas. Remember, it's a positive break, not time out. Don't angrily send your child there, rather, gently ask if they might like a break ("You seem frustrated right now, do you want to take your teddy bear and go chill in your cozy spot until you feel happier?").

7. Schedule individual parent time for each child

Meeting your child's needs for attention and connection will help reduce sibling tension and allow them to better manage frustration and stress. The care they need from you right now includes actual physical care (diaper changes and bottles) as well as emotional care (story time, snuggles and attention).

If you have a baby that needs a lot of care, build in blocks of time for older children when the baby naps. If your children are bigger, plan blocks of time with one child when your other children are engaged in preferred activities. Have one child watch a show while you play a game with another. Have one child eat a snack while you read a book with another. It's okay if you only spend a few minutes together, just as long as each child gets some solo parent time.

Being a parent during these days of

social distancing isn't easy—stress levels are high and kids are going to get frustrated with one another. By using a few simple strategies, though, you can help make your days run more smoothly.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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