How to Prevent Sibling Rivalry
There are many things that you can do to prevent sibling rivalry.
1) Do not play favorites and make sure that you treat your children equally and when impossible then fairly. Kids have different needs particularly when the age difference is great. For that reason, it is impossible to always treat them equally but you can make sure that you are always fair. Do not always try to protect the “weaker” or younger child. If a child complains about different treatment which is caused as a result of their ages or different needs explain to your child the cause of this disparity in a neutral manner. For example, if an older child can go to sleep later, explain to the younger child that younger children need more sleep and when they are older they will also go to sleep later. You can also explain that the older children get certain privileges but also have more responsibilities. Sometimes you cannot treat children equally and one child needs more than another. If children understand that even though you do not always treat them equally you are being fair and have reason to do so them they will feel less resentment. You do not have to successfully persuade your children that you are being fair and they will not always agree with you but it is important that you feel that you are trying to meet their unique needs in the fairest way possible and are not playing favorites.
2) Never compare children instead emphasize each child’s individual strengths.
3) Do not get involved in their arguments – Try not to get involved unless there is a danger of physical harm. If you do intervene it can cause other problems which increase sibling rivalry. Firstly, your children will not develop the tools to solve their problems and issues by themselves but will rather wait for you to come and solve it for them. Secondly, one child is often perceived as the weaker (usually the youngest). The older children will resent the fact that you are always helping and protecting the “weaker” child and this can cause even more resentment and more rivalry. If you do get involved make sure that you are helping them solve the problem and not solving it for them. Listen to their argument, without making it obvious that you are listening (so that they do not think that this fight is getting your attention), so that you know when to step in and so that you understand what is causing their fights in case you are able to provide them with tools which can be of assistance. If one kid is much younger or weaker than another you might need to mediate more often but try to keep out if possible. If you do intervene make sure that you help them solve the problem and do not solve it for them.
4) Make sure that your children have the tools and skills needed to cooperate and to work out their conflicts on their own. Children often don’t know how to approach another child and ask if they can share or play together. They also simply don’t have the tools needed to work out conflicts. Even when you do not get involved in their fights you should still pay attention to how the fight started and how it evolved. This will help you understand your children and enable you to help them solve the problem if they are not capable of doing it themselves. Teach them how to listen to the other side, compromise, think of creative problem solving solutions, respect one another, share, etc. If they do not have the tools they will never be able to solve conflicts both with siblings and in other relationships that they will inevitably have in life. Once they have the tools they will be able to use them in the future.
Discuss the situations that bother the children and suggest ways to deal with them. For example, if one child often teases another, then try to provide strategies to help. The child can ignore the teasing, walk away or even just “agree”. Children like to tease others because of the reaction that they get. If they get no reaction it is no fun. They will simply lose interest if they tease someone who is not cooperating or getting upset and the teaser will just stop. For example, recently I was helping two kids overcome sibling rivalry. The older kid would call the younger one small and the younger one in turn would react as if the world she lived in was destroyed. The older child enjoyed this and continued. He liked the fact that he had the power to get her to cry for an hour on the floor. The next time he called her small she said bravely “yes I am so small I am the size of a pea”. She obviously didn’t believe this so she found it easier to “agree” but the older kid didn’t get the reaction that he was looking for. This game was no fun! He walked away and started playing with one of his toys.
5) Enable and encourage children to express their feelings about each other and how they feel about the conflict. It is OK to feel anger or resentment. Adults do too. It is NOT OK to use violence to show this anger. Help your kids find words to describe how they feel instead of yelling, name-calling, or using violence to show how they feel.
6) Recognize and acknowledge cooperation or successful conflict resolution. For example, if your children start fighting over a toy and then decide to play together congratulate them on the mature manner in which they resolved the potential conflict. Often the only attention children receive is when they fight or misbehave so subconsciously their prefer to fight and get negative attention than no attention. Children love to be praised. Next time they are in a similar situation they will remember that they were praised for cooperating and will try to behave in the same appreciated manner.
7) When you do get involved in their fights there are many things that you can do to reduce sibling rivalry:
- Do not play favorites and never compare children.
- Encourage your children to cooperate rather than compete. For example, when tidying up see how many toys they can pick up together rather than who picks up more toys.
- Help provide children with options and creative ideas to solve the conflict but only once they have calmed down. Once kids are calm you can talk about what happened and how they could solve such a situation. Treat the fight as a learning experience or an opportunity to provide tools for the next fight. For example, if they are fighting over a toy offer them to play together, take turns or get another toy for each or both of them.
- Don’t always try to figure out who is to blame.
8) Try to give each child some one-on-one time on a regular basis – spend this time with one child doing something fun such as playing a game, going out for a milkshake or just talking with no distractions.
9) Listen to your children. When your child wants to talk, stop what you are doing and listen.
10) Focus on the positive aspects of having siblings – Ensure that you have positive experiences as a family. Go on family outings that all family members will enjoy or do activities together. Point out to your children the advantages of having siblings. For example, they always have someone to play with.
11) Develop a system or rules to deal with situations that tend to cause sibling rivalry – Try to think of ways to satisfy both sides and encourage children to think of such solutions by themselves. For example, if children fight over who will choose the bedtime story divide the week into days on which each child gets to choose the story or read two stories or alternate. Children might not be able to think of such solutions on their own but once you suggest them they might start thinking of similar solutions in other situations. If you have a “house rule” that on certain days each child gets to choose the story then you will prevent fighting. If your children fight over who gets to push the button in the elevator then decide that one child always pushes when going down and the other when going up. Try to find rules to prevent situations that often cause fights. Family chores should be divided equally or rotated on a regular basis.
12) Kids also need their own space, some time on their own and some toys that only belong to them. Even if kids share a room try to give each child some room of their own – such as their own drawer or cupboard. If you feel that they need some time apart try to make that happen occasionally.
Set Rules that are not to be Broken
1) Decide on some basic house rules that should never be broken – no violence, no name calling, no yelling, no tale telling, etc.
2) If kids fight over a toy put it aside until they agree or compromise.
3) No fighting or arguing in the car – when kids fight in the car it can actually be dangerous and cause an accident. Pull over the car and stop until they are calm.
Always let your children know that you love them all and that you have enough love for all of your children no matter what.