Parenting 101: Sibling Rivalry

Parenting 101: Sibling Rivalry

Listening to your children arguing over what is often nothing, can be beyond frustrating, but sibling rivalry has occurred as long as families have existed. We spoke to parenting expert and author of the Thinking Parent blog, Anita Cleare, on how you can reduce conflicts within your family…

As the saying goes, you can’t choose your family, nor do siblings choose each other. Sibling rivalry can come about as a result of children competing for parents’ attention or as a way of children striving to calm their own unique identity. Although it’s completely natural for your children to argue regularly and often physically fight with each other too, the relationship children have with their siblings can help to map out the way they will socialise and deal with disagreements as they grow up, so as a parent, it’s your duty to manage the rivalry while their young and still under your roof.

The 5 main factors that influence children’s behaviour towards each another are…  

1. Position in the family.
The oldest child may be burdened with responsibilities for the younger children or the younger child spends his/her life trying to catch up and be like an older sibling.

2. Gender. There is no evidence that children’s sex makes a difference. However, a son may resent his sister because his father treats her gently. On the other hand, a daughter may wish she could go to watch a football game with her father and brother. Unfortunately, whether your children are the same sex or different sexes, they are still just as likely to argue.

3. Age. Children master skills at different ages so, inevitably conflict can occur when children are at different stages. Young children need to learn to negotiate, co-operate and solve problems together and it takes time to learn those skills.

4. Development. Such as a pre-schooler who gets upset when a younger toddler snatches a toy, or a teenager who doesn’t want to join in with younger siblings’ childish games.

5. Habit. Sometimes children can fall into the habit of fighting because it gets them attention. There is nothing more guaranteed to make parents come running than a loud thud followed by a screech!

The 8 tactics to help you manage siblings…

1. Don’t Make Comparisons

Each child feels he/she is unique and rightly so; he/she is his/her own person and resents being evaluated only in relation to someone else. Instead of comparison, each child in the family should be given his/her own goals and levels of expectation that relate only to him/her.

2. Don’t Always Get Involved
Don’t rush to stop every argument they have, instead try to allow them to resolve disagreements themselves. Obviously if it gets out of hand, then that’s the point to intervene. As hard as it is, choose the battles accordingly so you are able to make that necessary judgement call. Whenever possible, let brothers and sisters settle their own differences. While it may sound good, it can be terribly unfair in practice. Parents have to judge when it’s time to step in and mediate, especially in a contest of unequals in terms of strength and eloquence (no hitting below the belt, literally or figuratively).

3. Choose Your Tone Carefully
It is crucial to remain calm as your tone of voice and actions will remind them that it’s not really such a big deal and will help them to listen to you.

4. Treat Them Equally
It may sound obvious but treat your children equally.  If they feel you are taking sides, this can make them think you have favourites, which will only add to the problem. Let them see you getting on with others. This will give them a good example of how people can sort out disagreements through talking calmly rather than fighting.

5. Praise Them
Remember to pay attention when children are playing nicely, not just when they’re bickering. Set some house rules like “speak kindly” or “be gentle” to help them focus on being good and praise them when they get it right. And, if they get it wrong, step in with a no-drama consequence. Children tend to repeat behaviour that gets attention, so pay lots of attention to the behaviour you want them to repeat. Let them know you appreciate the effort they’re making when they’re getting along.

6. Teach Them How To Co-operate
For example, everyone having their own turn when playing a game teaches them about cooperation, as does reaching compromises over playing with a particular toy or watching a TV programme and then swapping over so their brother or sister has a turn too.

7. Voice Their Emotions
Remind them to talk through their problems but if things do get too heated, make sure they know to ask an adult to help resolve the conflict.  Encourage them to think of others. Ask them how they think their brother or sister is feeling, and what they would want if they were in their position. This will help them to empathise with others.

8. Schedule Alone Time
If your children share a bedroom, the issue may be privacy and space. You could think about introducing a “my time” rota so that each child has time alone in their bedrooms at specific points in the day to play, relax etc.  This can teach them about thinking of others and how important it is to enjoy their own company.

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