3 Tips to Help Babysitters Deal With Sibling Rivalry

Teaching Kids Conflict Resolution

Siblings swinging on tree branch
Boris Jovanovic/Stocksy United

There’s a concert in town.

It’s the band you and your partner followed in college. After breaking up years ago, the band has finally come together again for a last few performances, and you stayed up late to be the first one to buy tickets. You also arranged a babysitter well in advance.

Tonight’s the big night. As you give last-minute instructions to the babysitter and blow kisses to your kids, you fear for one thing: no, not the well-being of your kids—you’ve known the babysitter for years and she is very good.

Your fear is for the sanity of the babysitter and if she’ll ever come back to your place after tonight.

Because today is the day your kids have chosen to put their sibling rivalry on full display.

Maybe because you were too rushed in the evening as you tried to get out the door on time. Maybe the kids got up on the wrong side of the bed. Whatever the reason, ever since you picked them up from school, your kids have been going at each other’s throats.

Will the babysitter be able to deal with their sibling rivalry when it is out like this in full force?

The answer is yes if you’ve taken these three steps ahead of time.

1. Make Kids Responsible for Resolving Their Own Conflicts

From as early on as possible, teach kids the tools required to resolve their own conflicts. The more you try to referee and resolve it for them, the worse it gets over time. Instead, from a very early age, as long as they are not physically violent or emotionally abusive, let them hash it out.

Focus your effort on teaching them how to sort their fights, instead of sorting it for them.

Here are a few simple ways to do this:

  • Teach kids that they don’t always have to agree with each other, but they must always be respectful of each other.
  • Instead of negotiating on behalf of one child or the other, teach them to negotiate with each other to reach satisfactory agreements.
  • Once they have made an agreement, do not interfere, no matter how much you disagree with their solution.

When you have this firmly in place, it doesn’t matter whether you are in charge or the babysitter—when sibling rivalry comes knocking, your kids will know how to sort through it and carry on.

2. Have Family Rules in Place that Apply Consistently & Equally to Every Child

The key here is to come up with the rules in collaboration with your kids. Once they feel that they are fair to every child and agree with them, they are likely to abide by them. Here are a few examples:

  • “If you cannot share a toy, it goes away into quarantine and won’t come out until you figure out either how to play with it together or how to take turns.”
  • “While sharing something, if one divides, the other gets to choose.”
  • “If you raise your voice or fight physically, you need to sit on different sofas and not talk to each other until you feel ready to try again respectfully.”

Once the rules are agreed upon, write them on a piece of paper and post them on your fridge right next to the emergency contact information list you put together for the babysitter.

Now she can handle things exactly the way you do and exactly the way your kids have come to expect.

3. Get Them Engaged in Activities That Keep Them Out of Each Other’s Hair 

Just as everything feels annoying and irritating to us on some days, there are days when kids find it hard to get along harmoniously.

On those days, before you leave them with the babysitter, get them involved in an activity that keeps them engaged and out of each other’s way. For instance,

  • If your kids like reading, keep a stash of one to two books that each child likes that you can pull out on these occasions.
  • If they love movies, pop in their common favorite in the DVD player and declare it a movie night.
  • If they like puzzles, get them each started on putting together a jigsaw puzzle on their own.

If you have more than one child, sibling rivalry is a fact of life. But with a few simple steps, you can make sure it does not traumatize your babysitters and you won’t have to refresh your babysitter list each time you hire one.

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