How to Deal With Sibling Rivalry By Cultivating Courtesy

Throughout June 2012, we’ll be working on the concept of “courtesy.”

All our discussions and activities will aim to help our students understand that courtesy is more than a gesture of manners or a series of polite words and actions.

It encapsulates empathy, respect for others, and kindness.

Powerful Words is the name of our character development curriculum here at Urban Martial Arts. It’s designed by one of the nation’s leading childhood development experts, Dr. Robyn Silverman. Every month, we’ll focus on a different Powerful Word, or concept around character development.

In this post, Dr. Robyn answers a question from a parent who wishes her children would show each other the same courtesy they show to their friends.

Dear Dr. Robyn,

Our kids are nicer to their friends than they are to one other. It drives both of us crazy. How can we help them listen to each other and stop arguing so much? Please help! A little common courtesy would be nice…

— Joelle & Tim.; Madison, WI

Thank you for writing in together– it’s wonderful when parents are on the same page!

You are certainly not on your own when it comes to sibling rivalry.

Children feel safe around their brothers and sisters so they behave in ways that they might never behave towards friends.

It doesn’t make it right, it just makes it common. So what can we do?

(1) Let them learn on their own:

As long as safety and emotional well-being are not being compromised, try to stay out of it.

We have to allow children to learn how to fight fair and come to a sensible conclusion. If we constantly burst in, we rob them of this opportunity.

And when they resolve the argument kindly… move onto number 2!

(2) Praise the accomplishment:

It takes strong social skills to assertively ask for what you want, courteously listen to the other person, negotiate, compromise, and stick to a choice.

Make sure to NOT let this sleeping dog lie– instead, let them know that you’ve noticed.

Tell them; “I like seeing that you can argue in a courteous way, listen to each other and still get your point across. That way, each person benefits!”

Personally, I’ve implemented a “pom-pom” system – if I see a child doing something extra good, s/he can put a pom pom in a special box. When 8 pom poms are accumulated, they can pick out something special from their “awesome bag” (i.e. bubbles, new book). It pays to be courteous!

(3) Paraphrase, Question, Reflect (PQR):

When you must step in, come in as a coach rather than a problem-solver.

Give each child time to explain.

Paraphrase what each child says.

“You want to play with this ball but your brother is playing with it.”

“You want to have your own turn with the ball because your sister already had one.”

Use powerful questioning such as; How do you feel? What can you do?

Then reflect the feelings and ideas of each child until a conclusion is reached.

Keep this exchange as calm and courteous as possible.

Of course if a positive solution can’t be reached, consequences for all parties need to be implemented.

But I choose to think positively.

When we work together, everyone wins!

Here’s to your success!

Dr. Robyn

To give you more ideas for conversation topics, here’s a run-down of what we’ll be discussing this month:

Week 1 Courtesy defined: What does courtesy mean and how do we show it?
Week 2 Good Manners, Bad Manners: Table, school & out in public.
Week 3 Powerful Greetings: The Powerful GUEST system to meet & greet others.
Week 4 Courteous Words: Please, sorry, excuse me, thank-you and how can I help?

About Dr. Robyn:
Dr. Robyn Silverman, child development specialist, body image/body bullying expert, sought-after speaker and award-winning writer, is known for her no-nonsense yet positive approach to helping young people and their families thrive. Her ground-breaking research at Tufts University on young women is the foundation for her book, “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.”