Posted: Mar 05, 2014 10:00 AM
A little roughhousing is normal between kids, but how do you handle things when your children are legitimately hurting each other? We asked two parenting experts to share advice on dealing with childhood violence and bullying.

As a parent, there are few things as heartbreaking as seeing your child get hurt. Discover ways to avoid bullying and violence between siblings.

Be consistent about consequences

Be very clear about rules within your family. Basic rules, such as no hitting and no yelling, should apply to everyone. "Kids thrive when they know the boundaries and limits," child psychologist and songwriter Don MacMannis, Ph.D., explains. "Ask for their help in listing what's not OK about teasing, yelling, pushing and name-calling. Openly discuss and decide appropriate consequences." Kids will take more ownership in family rules if they're given the opportunity to chime in and help shape consequences.

Discuss sibling rivalry

Point out that while the emotions are normal, it is not acceptable to be hurtful in response to feeling hurt.

It's natural for siblings to experience negative emotions toward each other. "Let kids know that it's normal to feel angry and upset, especially when they're sharing toys and space, and that it's common to feel jealous when they see a sibling getting attention," says MacMannis. "Let them know that it's OK to feel these things and talk about their feelings as they arise." Point out that while the emotions are normal, it is not acceptable to be hurtful in response to feeling hurt.

Share your emotions

Ryan White is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He stresses the importance of being open about emotions. Teaching kids to communicate emotions helps them learn to resolve issues instead of bottling up anger or fear. Try using a board game such as Candyland to facilitate conversation. "Each time each child or adult lands on a red space, the player with the turn shares something that angers him or her, blue would be something sad, green would be something happy, and the other colors can represent the feelings parents want to address," says White.

Teach conflict resolution

Guide your kids — both aggressors and victims — to solve problems peacefully instead of blowing up or resorting to violence. Communication is key. "Teach kids additional tools like taking a deep breath, shifting attention to something else and substituting a positive thought," says MacMannis. Only intervene when a situation is out of hand. Your children need to practice resolving conflicts without an adult stepping in.

Give your kids solo time

Time spent alone and one-on-one time with parents are both important for kids. You may be surprised how well even a small amount of solo time improves relationships within the family. "Even if it's just 10 to 15 minutes a day, having time with each child, individually, can really help," says MacMannis. "Within reason, let them choose how they want to spend that time." Give your children reasonable space to play alone, without having to share toys or time.

Talk to your child's doctor

doctor's stethoscopeIf the situation between your children is consistently violent, it's time to check in with your pediatrician. Your family may be referred to a family or child counselor. It's important to rule out or potentially treat developmental issues in children who consistently respond violently to difficult situations. "The therapist can work with both of the children to help them to work together to improve the relationship, and also work with the entire family to improve how well they work together as a team," says White.

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