Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

If you have more than one child, or is even just pregnant with a second child, you will know what sibling rivalry is.  Sibling rivalry is the age old jealousy and fighting between brothers and sisters.  In today’s age with reconstituted families – with half and stepbrothers or sisters – we can even notice more conflict in sibling relationships.

I can recall from my relationship with my brother that there are some times when you are just the best of friends and other times when you fight constantly and can hardly stand to be in each others’ company.  Luckily the love was way stronger than the occasional hate and as grown ups we became especially close.  I would like my two daughters to have a similar relationship with each other that they will be able to cherish forever.  The question is though – how do I go about helping them to nurture their relationship?

Reasons for sibling rivalry:

    • Age: Children of different ages generally need  different things, for example a toddler might not be willing to share his toys with a younger sibling or be able to understand that an older sibling have expensive toys that cannot withstand bashing.  The evolution of needs lead to a lack of understanding between brothers and sisters which can eventually end up in a fight.
    • Gender: Boys and girls are different even if we believe in gender equality! Girls might become jealous when Dad constantly plays rough games with her brother but are more gentle with her.  A boy might become jealous of all the time and attention that mommy gives to a little princess’s hair and wardrobe.
  • Individual temperaments: We are all born with our own temperaments which might either help us get along with each other or leave us at loggerheads.  A parent might find it easier to get along with one child, which could spark jealousy in the other.
  • Special needs: When one child in a household has special needs – illness, handicap, giftedness, the amount of time and energy spent on this child can reasonably lead to jealousy and resentment in the other ones.
  • Parents as role models: When parents handle conflict by screaming, swearing, hitting and slamming doors we can expect our little ones to handle their sibling conflict in a similar way.  We should try at all times to model good conflict resolution strategies.  It will be good for the marital relationship as well!

How to try and prevent sibling rivalry:

    • Children need to know some ground rules for acceptable behavior.  Rules should be specific for instance: no cursing, no name-calling, no yelling and no door slamming.  It is helpful if children has input into rule-making and also consequences to breaking the rules.
    • When you make sure that you as a parent spend some one-on-one time with each child the potential for jealousy becomes less.
    • Allow your child enough time and space for himself without siblings hanging around constantly. Arranging individual play dates gives your child the chance to play with his peers, while you can dedicate that time to his sibling.
  • It is really important that children do know that they are loved, safe, important and needed in the family.  Children need reassurance that their needs will be met.
  • Scheduling fun family time gives the children time with the parents in a peaceful environment.  It provides everyone with the opportunity to get equal amounts of attention and social interaction with each other.
  • Do not ever compare your children according to their accomplishments – each one needs to know that they are special and can develop at their own pace.
  • Do not dismiss your child’s resentment or anger.  These are valid emotions and we can teach our children how to express them in such a manner that is productive in the situation.
  • Do not yell, swear, hit, lecture or let the fight escalate into a fight where one or both gets hurt.

How to deal with sibling rivalry when it happens:

  • Do not get involved unless absolutely necessary in order to prevent injury.  Children need to learn how to deal with their own conflicts effectively.  Stepping in every time might lead to a situation where you are seen as the savior or the mediator.
  • When you have to intervene, help them by resolving the crisis with them and not for them.
  • It is wise to separate the children and wait for them to calm down before attempting a resolution.
  • Do not focus on who is to blame for the fight.  Both parties are partly responsible.
  • Try and work out with them a solution that would leave both parties happy.  This can be accomplished with sharing the toys, or if not possible devising a game where they have to take equal turns in handling the specific toy, otherwise a whole new game might be suggested.

I truly hop this information will be of some help.  If you have some other ways of dealing with sibling rivalry, please let us know and we will post the suggestions!