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Sibling Rivalries in Children

Relatively few children are fortunate enough to be close friends with their siblings — in few cases, siblings can even be best friends.  But in the majority of cases, routine quabbles, and even drag-out fights, are a fact of life in the lives of brothers and sisters. Sibling rivalries can often go on even into adulthood!

What Causes Sibling Rivalry?

Some of the more basic reasons for sibling disputes are differences in personalities, ages and gender.  But siblings can also fight over getting their equal share of household goods or parental attention. Or they can be competing to define who they are, and to show that they are a separate entity from their siblings.

Children may be more apt to start fights with each other when they are hungry, bored or tired. They may also not know how to get positive attention from their siblings, so they start fights.

Many children will vie for their parents’ attention:  when parents are busy with their jobs, or when a new baby arrives in the home, kids may act out to get the parental attention they crave, or the attention that they were accustomed to getting before the new baby arrived.

Siblings can also fight over possessions that they cherish. Sharing toys or other favorite things can be difficult to do for younger children.

Issues of fairness can be another area of conflict: if one or more siblings feel that a brother or sister is getting preferential treatment from mom or dad — whether or not these feelings are justified — they can resent the sibling who is perceived to be getting the better treatment.

What Can a Parent Do?

For parents, one of  the important things is to know when to intervene and stop the fighting, and when to let your children work out their differences by themselves.

You should stop yourself from intervening every time you hear your children argue — letting your kids resolve their own problems will teach them valuable lessons about compromising, and negotiating for what they want. But if you see things starting to get physical, or if you see that a child is consistently at the receiving end of bullying from his or her other siblings, you can take specific steps to teach your kids to get along.

If things are getting physical, separate the kids. Send kids to their own bedrooms for a while, to “cool off.” Take up their issues of disagreement when everybody is calm.

If fighting is consistent and becomes problematic, take time to teach kids about negotiation and compromise. Talk to them about not yelling, and talking to each other, instead. Encourage your children to give input on solutions that will be satisfactory for everyone — work on creating “win-win” solutions with them. If kids can’t come up with solutions, you as the parent can offer peaceful suggestions. For instance, if kids are fighting over the same toy, suggest that they play a game together with that toy. Don’t hesitate to ask kids themselves what they think would be an acceptable solution to the conflict.

Enforcing specific rules is important: no hitting, name-calling, or damaging each other’s property.

For parents, it is important to not play favorites. Even if you do happen to like one kid over the other (you would not be the first parent), don’t make it obvious. Refrain from telling one kid that their sibling is better at something. This can not only fuel sibling rivalries, but it can also harm your own relationship with your children.

Don’t strive for equality, but for fairness: kids’ ages are likely different, and as such, they may be allowed to do different things. For instance, an older child will be allowed to go out with friends and stay out later, whereas a younger child has to be in bed early. An older sibling should be able to play with his or her friends, without a younger sibling always tagging along. The main thing is to treat each of your children as the unique individuals that they are, letting each know that they are special for their own talents and individuality.

Giving each kid individual attention is a good way to establish a child’s uniqueness and special place within the family. Even a few minutes a day  — 10 or 15 minutes of one-on-one time — will help instill in a child the sense that they are valued as an individual.

As parents, we should also give each child a right to his or her own possessions: kids shouldn’t have to share every single thing with their siblings. Each child should own something that is totally their own, and that they don’t have to share with anyone. If kids fight over the same toy (or the remote control, for instance), schedule specific times when each child is in charge of that item.

Having fun as a family is another way to foster cooperation and harmony among siblings. If kids have fun together, it will encourage them to work with each other when conflicts arise.

If kids need time away from each other, and even from the family, as in the case of teenagers, arrange times for them to spend time with their peers engaging in age-appropriate activities.

Parents Are Children’s Best Role Models

Parents are the most important role models in their children’s lives. The way that parents resolve problems and conflicts will serve as a key example for children to follow. If you and your spouse work out conflicts in a non-aggressive manner that’s respectful and does not try lay “blame” but instead looks for solutions, your children will likewise pattern their problem-solving behaviors to what they see you and your spouse do.

Finally, if you find that you are having too difficult a time controlling your children’s fighting, it may be time to seek professional help.

By Jamell Andrews

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