Managing Sibling Rivalry
Parenting is a rewarding but challenging journey, and, if you have more than one child, a common hurdle is dealing with sibling rivalry. It’s likely that you’ve encountered those moments when your once-adorable little ones turn into fierce competitors, leaving you wondering how to keep your sanity amidst the chaos. So it’s good to know that sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up, and with the right strategies, you can not only manage it but also use it as an opportunity for your children to learn valuable life skills.
Understanding Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry affects almost all families and it comes about due to a combination of factors including differences in age, personality, and temperament. Siblings will compete for your attention, affection, and limited resources, such as toys or personal space, as they try to establish their own identities within the family. Children of different ages have distinct needs, abilities, and interests, which can create tension when they clash; younger children may become jealous of their older siblings’ privileges, while older siblings might feel burdened by the responsibilities that come with being the older sister or brother. When you are refereeing your next fight, try to remember it is completely normal and often stems from the very qualities that make your children unique individuals.
Competition for Attention
Children crave their parents’ attention and may resort to rivalry to secure it. When they perceive that one sibling is receiving more attention, they often react by ‘misbehaving’ or competing for your attention.
Parents may unintentionally favour one child over another at times, causing resentment among siblings. This treatment can arise from differences in personalities, interests, or even unintentional biases.
Siblings often clash over shared resources like toys, space, or parental time. These disputes can escalate into battles if not managed effectively.
Sibling Roles and Birth Order
Birth order can affect sibling dynamics. The firstborn child often naturally takes on responsibilities and tries to set an example for younger siblings. On the flip side, younger siblings tend to strive for independence and recognition in the family unit and see older siblings as controlling or overbearing. These differing roles can understandably lead to conflict.
Whatever the reason, it’s important that parents take steps to nurture good relationships between siblings and ensure that conflicts don’t damage their bond.
Here’s what parents can do to manage sibling disputes:
Encourage Open Communication
Communication is key to resolving conflicts and building sibling harmony. You can encourage your children to express their feelings, concerns, and frustrations openly by being an active listener, and allow them to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement.
When your children have a disagreement, help them to find a resolution by trying to pinpoint the exact issue that is bothering them rather than directing their frustration towards their sibling. For example, if your child is annoyed that their sibling always gets to their favourite toy before they do, encourage them to be specific rather than saying something vague like, “You’re so mean!”. By talking about the specific issue, rather than fixating on their sibling’s actions, they are more likely to find a solution.
Set Clear Expectations and Rules
Establish clear expectations and house rules that apply to everyone, including grown ups. When siblings know the boundaries, it can reduce potential conflicts. Make sure these rules are age appropriate and revisited as your children grow. No name-calling and absolutely no physical aggression is a good starting point.
Spend quality one-to-one time with each of your children. This will help them to feel valued and reduce the need for them to compete for your attention. You could spend time doing their favourite hobby together or finding out about their unique interests. Individual time also gives you the opportunity to connect with your children and build your parent-child bond.
Make sure your children appreciate each other’s individuality and unique strengths. This will help to build a sense of cooperation rather than competition. It is equally important for you to avoid comparing your children, especially when it comes to achievements or behaviours. Instead, focus on celebrating each child’s milestones and successes separately.
Family games, outings, and projects that require collaboration are all great opportunities for siblings to learn the art of working together. For example, playing a family board game together encourages turn-taking, and agreeing on strategies if it is a team game. Going on a camping trip as a family encourages teamwork as you set up camp. And preparing a meal together will give siblings a sense of shared accomplishment.
Teach your children to deal with conflicts in a positive way. When children learn to handle disagreements by listening to their sibling’s point of view without using mean words or lashing out, they will be better at solving arguments. The added advantage of this is that children who grow up knowing how to prevent and solve problems with their siblings will also be better at working out compromises and getting along with others in the future, whether that’s at work or with friends and family.
Take Action When Necessary
While sometimes it can be a good idea to let siblings resolve conflicts independently, this only has the potential to work if they have the skills to deal with disagreements in a positive and constructive way. If children don’t yet have those skills or the argument becomes physically or verbally harmful, step in right away. If you didn’t witness the disagreement, have a conversation with your children to understand what happened so you can all talk it through, then make it clear that any form of aggression is not allowed in your home.
Both Sides of the Story
In an argument, there will always be two sides to the story. Allow each child to express themselves, making sure they feel heard without interrupting them. Often children find relief in talking to a parent about their issues, especially when they feel their viewpoint will be listened to impartially.
Ask For Their Input
Encourage your children to use their initiative by asking them to come up with solutions. Ask them to think about ways to overcome the disagreement that would be fair for everyone involved, and encourage empathy by asking them to consider each other’s viewpoints before making their suggestions. This approach will not only help develop their problem solving abilities, but also their social and emotional skills.
Be a Good Role Model
Parents are their children’s main role models and learn so much from them, including how to resolve conflicts. They will watch and listen to your interactions with your partner, friends and family. So try to remain calm and respectful during a disagreement, and your children will learn to use these conflict-resolution skills themselves.
Praise and Reward
Children respond well to praise and rewards. So when parents acknowledge and celebrate their children’s efforts to get along, it boosts their self esteem and reinforces their behaviour. This will not only reduce conflicts but also help to strengthen sibling bonds.
Sibling rivalry is an inevitable part of family life, but remember it can also be an opportunity for growth and learning. By understanding why conflicts happen, recognising triggers and having effective strategies to deal with them, you can help to create a more harmonious home environment. Patience and consistency are essential, and over time, your children can develop strong and supportive relationships with each other that will last a lifetime. So take a deep breath, try to embrace the challenges, and watch your children grow into caring and emotionally intelligent individuals.