Sibling rivalry can cause animosity in even the most well adjusted families. As kids grow and learn about themselves and their place in the world, a certain amount of sibling rivalry is to be expected. Trying to keep the peace when children are fighting is a challenge most parents of more than one child have to face at some point.
If you have stepchildren, the opportunities for sibling rivalry and ongoing battles increase. Putting children who don’t know each other together under one roof can quickly lead to fights. Add in the fact that your stepchildren are trying to adjust to their parents’ separation, and your own children don’t like sharing you with their new siblings, and you have a recipe for fights.
Is it possible for stepsiblings to get along? Absolutely yes, but it does take time, commitment, patience and good boundaries from both parents. Here are some tips to help you mediate between stepsiblings and build a more peaceful family life.
Set standards of behavior
Sit down with your partner and agree on standards of behavior that you expect from all children and teenagers in your household. Spell out ground rules from the obvious (no hitting each other) to the more subtle (be willing to share communal items such as the TV, or time with each parent).
Once you have your ground rules in place, communicate them to your kids and stepkids. Decide how you’re going to respond to infractions – will you take away phone or TV privileges, for example. Be consistent and fair in applying your new ground rules to everyone.
Be a good role model
Your kids and stepkids pick up a lot just from observing you and your partner, so be sure to set a good example. Talk to them and each other with respect and kindness, even when things are tense. Let them see you handling conflicts with grace and a strong sense of fairness. Show them how to listen and be considerate, by listening and being considerate with them and your partner.
If you have tween or teens in the household, try to get them on board with this. Older children can make wonderful role models, and your littler ones are even more likely to copy their siblings than their parents.
Teach both sharing and respect
Teaching children to share nicely is vital, but teaching respect for each other’s possessions is just as important. During the process of blending a family, both sets of kids will feel like their familiar lifestyle is being taken away from them. Having their things used, borrowed, or even broken by their new step siblings will only add to this sense of powerlessness.
It’s important your children to play nice and share communal items such as the TV, outside play equipment or family board games, so they can learn to share with their new sibling. You might consider setting up schedules if one child feels their sibling is getting too much of something.
However, it’s also important to teach stepsiblings respect for each other’s possessions, and that there are some things they’re not allowed to take. Show your children and stepchildren that you respect their personal possessions and that you expect them to do the same for each other.
Give everyone some privacy
Children, especially older children and teenagers, need some privacy. Blending your families can make them feel like their space and privacy is being taken away from them, especially if they’ve inherited younger siblings who want to follow them around!
Make sure all stepsiblings get some privacy when they need it. This could be time alone in their room, or if they don’t have separate rooms it could be time set aside in the den or at the dining table for hobbies. Perhaps some time outside or a trip to the park or mall with their biological parent will prove to be just the thing. Support all children in your family to have their own time and space when they need it – you’ll save a lot of stress and anger.
Set aside time to bond
If you want the stepsiblings in your family to bond with each other, make sure you set aside some time when they can bond. For example, you might try setting aside a regular family mealtime when everyone can sit down around the table and talk about what happened for them that day. Or you might designate a weekly beach day or game night when everyone can get together for some fun.
Setting aside time for fun activities helps reinforce the idea that stepsiblings are fun new playmates and someone to make happy memories with. Remember to offer treats and fun time equally so no one feels left out.
Don’t force things
Trying to force stepsiblings to get along is apt to backfire. Encouraging time together is vital, but do allow everyone their own space, too. Your kids and stepkids might be able to learn to be civil and spend a little time together, but won’t become the best of friends, and that’s ok.
Give everyone involved time and space and let the relationships develop naturally. Don’t get attached to the ideal of everyone getting along wonderfully. A respectful truce is much more realistic than expecting them to become the best of friends.
Helping step siblings get along is no easy task. Muster your patience, set good boundaries, and treat all the young people in your newly blended family with respect and kindness to help things along.