Blended Family Problems: What to Do When Step Siblings Fight

 

What to Do When Step Siblings FightAs if getting married and gaining a new family all at once isn't stressful enough, often times children of the two different families just don't get along–a common blended family problem. This creates much frustration and additional stress. The trend toward remarriage following divorce has meant that many adults and children must adapt to life in step-families. It is estimated that 75 percent to 80 percent of divorced parents remarry. This leaves a lot of people needing to adjust to this big transition. Children under the same roof quarrel, bicker, argue, fight, and engage in other disagreeable forms of socialization. While some amounts are to be expected, there should be more positive feelings than negative ones.

A desire for a parent's complete attention is the number one reason siblings fights. Kids also pick on each other out of boredom. If there is a lot of uproar about nothing, the kids are probably bored. Sometimes siblings honestly cannot stand one another. If the argument is a rehash of a long held grievance, the kids are in a genuine conflict situation probably caused by different perspectives or different personalities. Knowing what to do and knowing who, which of the parents, get's involved can be complicated. When step-siblings fight, one of the first things you can do as a couple is to postpone dealing with the fighting, if possible, and go to another room to discuss an agreed upon plan of action. Taking time to unify yourselves first is less difficult than taking the time to solve problems later. Following are additional strategies to help step siblings stop fighting.


What Not To Do When Step Siblings Fight


1. If the kids are fighting for attention, don't give it to them while they're fighting.
It is best to just withdraw from that situation and give the children attention at times when they're behavior is positive.

2. Don't take it personally.
Many kids will say really mean things to your kids that will make you really mad and protective. Try to remember this and don't dish out unnecessary punishments to "teach them respect." This will do just the opposite. Instead, model good behavior with acts of love and understanding.

3. Don't expect your kids to be best friends right away.
Studies show an average transition for step families is 5 years, varying depending on the family. Fighting is something you're going to have to expect in this type of situation.

4. Don't referee.
The worst thing you can do is try to decide who is at fault, who should be blamed, or who started it. Eventually, both kids will hate the parent who tries to intervene as the "judge." To at least one child, the parent judge will never seem fair and the other child will say, "See, Mother loves me best!" This is a bad situation. The question is not who did what but "What are we going to do now?"


What To Do When Step Siblings Fight

1. Turn off the television and give these kids work to do.
Do work together as a family. This will give bored kids something to do instead of fight and it will create family unity as you all work together as a family. You will be amazed at how the way you do dishes together creates intimacy.

2. Prevent physical harm.
Separate squabbling kids before anger turns into violence. Send both to separate locations. Separate chairs on opposite sides of the room or farther if necessary.

3. Model appropriate behavior with your spouse.
If you yell at your spouse telling him or her, "You're not my child's parent..." You send the message that there are two different families. This type of disagreement will increase fighting. "Fight fair" with your spouse in front of the children, (if it's not about them) teaching them how to discuss differences of opinion.

4. Discuss with your spouse disciplining rules and expectations.
Decide what you both feel comfortable with the other in disciplining your children. If your goal is eventual no difference between "his" and "hers" then progress that way.

5. Use negotiation technique.
Give these instructions to both kids.

  • You may leave your chairs when you give each other permission to do so. You may not get up until your brother gives you permission and he cannot get up until you give him permission (repeat to other child).

  • When you are both ready to grant permission to each other, then you can get up.

  • There is no time limit and I, your parent, will not be involved except to enforce the rule. (Be prepared with consequences for the child who refuses to honor the rule.) Stay out of the room while they negotiate so that you cannot be pulled in.


6. Reassure your children that they are loved.
Children will react with jealousy and fear if they think someone else is taking all your love away from them. Be sure to tell them often, "I love you" and praise them for their uniqueness, their accomplishments, etc.

7. Tell your children that they're gaining new friends.
Without the pressure of family ties, step-siblings can actually become close friends and bring different experiences to each other.

8. Take things slow.
Don't put pressure on kids to accept their new siblings right away. Instead, allow time for them to "warm up" to each other, and expect some conflicts. Most kids outgrow sibling rivalry and form a close, loving relationships.

Blending step families can be complicated and difficult to navigate. Knowing how to reduce stressful situations and strengthen the marriage and all children can be a tremendous tool for blending families. For more strategies for blending families and helping step children mesh, you may want to consider this First Answers course: Blended Families. Or you may want to consider talking with a First Answers coach or an expert.

References

Martin C. A. & Colbery K. K. (1997) Parenting: A Life Span Perspective. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. USA.

Gibson, E. M. When Siblings Fight. http://www.smu.edu/~egibson/sibfight.html

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