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sibling rivalry

Parenting Tips: How to Survive Sibling Rivalry

A few days ago, my two grown-up children posted pictures on Instagram from their childhood in celebration of National Siblings Day with comments like, “I’d rather shoot hoops with my little bro than anyone else on the planet.” They certainly looked like they were having fun together, but there were many moments when the nature of their feelings were not so harmonious. So should parents be concerned when their children fight and how should they manage sibling rivalry? This is what Carizon’s Community Resource Workers have to say:

Are sibling squabbles normal and necessary? The answer is “yes.”

Are there things that parents can do to reduce the frequency of sibling squabbles? The answer is also “yes.”

In order to decrease occurrences of sibling rivalry, here are some ideas:

  • Ensure that your children see you handling conflict situations appropriately.
  • Avoid comparing your children or encouraging competition between them.
  • Schedule “special-time alone” with each child. This will help to meet each child’s need for parental attention.
  • Teach your children that attention doesn’t have to be fair and equal all the time, but instead based on what is happening at the time.
  • Admit when you are wrong. Your children will learn to do this too!
  • Help your children to practice problem solving.
  • When possible, have more than one of their favourite toys or objects available (2 shovels & 2 pails).
  • Praise all positive behaviour, however minor, and when your child does misbehave, separate the “child” from the unwanted behaviour (e.g., rather then calling the child bad, label the behaviour as unacceptable). Children with a positive sense of self-worth are less likely to need to fight for status in other ways.
  • Provide lots of opportunities for choice within each child’s day. Let each child make decisions, within your range of acceptable possibilities, whenever possible. This will help children meet their need for power and control in more acceptable ways.
  • For special privileges, such as sitting in the front seat, set up a tracking chart so that everyone knows in advance who’s turn it is. Try to encourage your children to work together so that they all can enjoy their turn.
  • Encourage your children to develop positive friendships and interests outside the home. In this way your child will have other avenues to feel special and meet their needs.
  • Don’t set the expectation that siblings must always like each other and get along – some conflicts are inevitable.
  • Give children permission to share their real feelings.
  • Allow each child to have a few “special” items that they don’t have to share or a space in the house where they can be alone if they choose.
  • Don’t feel that you need to be the referee for every conflict. If everyone (and everything) is relatively safe – let them work it out themselves.

So, when do you need to intervene in sibling squabbles?

The obvious answer is when one child is about to be physically or emotionally harmed. How best do you go about managing these conflicts when you do need to intervene? Try these strategies:

  • Teach your children that “how to work out a problem” is more important than “who started it.”
  • Insist that children stay together until they have a solution or…
  • Separate the children until they are ready to work things out.
  • Emphasize what to do versus what they shouldn’t do in managing the situation.
  • Teach your children to share, compromise and take turns (keeping in mind stage of development).
  • Inject humour to change the mood.
  • Explain the emotional effects of teasing and the possible outcome of provoking.
  • Have them (age dependent) present what they see as a possible fair solution for both themselves and their siblings.

The only true way to eliminate sibling rivalry is to have one child, but understanding that this is a normal part of childhood and following the tips above should help parents manage sibling rivalry and also provide children with skills necessary to navigate conflict in adulthood.