Dealing with sibling rivalry

To watch your children rip each other to shreds through words and actions can be very difficult for parents to watch. Yet, research shows that sibling rivalry can play a very powerful and constructive role in your children’s social development. It can teach them about:

  • Relationships
  • Establishing rules
  • Tolerance
  • Understanding competition
  • Giving to receive
  • Consideration.

These elements set your children up for more successful, lasting future relationships.

Why do siblings fight?

  • It’s simple – because they are familiar with each other. Familiarity leads to comfort, which breaks down the barriers of inhibition and frees us to be ourselves. We’re more likely to release our thoughts and feelings and try out less-inhibited behaviour with those we trust most.
  • Siblings have the joy of familiarity; they tend to see more of each other than other peers. They start to see cause and effect: “If I do this, my sister will do that.” In this way they learn how to trigger responses in each other. They compare themselves with each other because they do similar tasks and parents often comment on each child’s performance.
  • Children live in the now. They’re spontaneous and self-centered by nature. They tend to act before they think and view matters from their perspective only. When your child is hurt, he’ll hurt others. Often he’ll blow off steam with his sibling, where he feels safe, although the source of anger is actually something else. Teaching your child about anger and helping him to release it constructively is important; focusing on sibling bonds is equally vital.

Triggers for sibling conflicts

Toddlers’ unwillingness to share:

This comes from their new-found knowledge that they’re individuals and can ‘own’ their toys. Siblings need to be made aware that their toddler sibling is not being selfish or unkind when he won’t share. He’s simply learning to understand his world, and that this phase will evolve.

School-aged children’s strong sense of what is fair and equal:

They’ll notice every inequality, such as you spending more time with their little sister or forgiving her for an outburst, but not showing them the same tolerance.

Four steps to deal with sibling rivalry

Build bonds of belonging through doing the following:

  • Create a family identity: Create rituals and traditions within your family that help build an identity. These make your kids feel connected and see the bonds of family as strong and special.
  • Teach your children to celebrate difference: Whenever your children comment on their likes or dislikes of food, activities, friends – or anything – point out that everyone is different and that’s what makes us special. Learning they’re individuals, and that you love each of them for who they are, creates self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
  • Create sibling time: Assign a set time twice a week as ‘sibling time’. During this time allow the children to be in charge of the games or activities. They have to spoil each other. For example, if your son likes to have a back rub then your daughter can spoil him with one. If your daughter loves cupcakes, he can ice one for her.
  • Let them right their wrongs: When your children fight or hurt each other, let them repair the damage. Instead of consoling the crying sibling, teach and allow the one who did wrong to do so. This help will turn nastiness into a feeling of compassion.
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