Parenting Matters: Sibling rivalry is nothing new

  • Wednesday, October 9, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Sibling rivalry is a common thing in most families. It isn’t just your children, it even happens with animals when they feel a rival is getting more attention than they are. It isn’t just in this country but all over the world.

Children fight with their brothers and sisters for many reasons. Some children fight to gain attention from their parents. Others fight to show their parents that they can do what they want even in defiance of their parents’ wishes. Some children pick on a favored child to seek revenge on parents. Another common cause of fights between siblings is based on birth order or just temperament.

And some fight just because they are bored.

Authorities differ on how to solve sibling rivalry. Some authorities say to let the children work it out by just ignoring it. A new view has discussed fighting as a form of abuse and something parents need to step in on when it gets too much out of control. Some parents would say that stopping some of this kind of fighting is a way to maintain sanity.

Techniques to use at these times include separating the fighting children, talking together about what happened, and even time out. If you know who is the child causing the problem, try talking with that child. If you don’t know, you may have to rely on separating them until their anger decreases.

Children need to learn to handle their own problems, but parents need to make sure that no child is being mistreated. Parents don’t want to feel like a referee but sometimes that is what is needed. Sometimes, sibling rivalry is even an issue that some parents handle fairly well.

Preventing sibling rivalry

Before we talk about handling sibling rivalry, we need to discuss preventing the problem. There are many thing you can do to prevent the issue of sibling rivalry from becoming a problem.

1. Stay calm and in control. Pay attention to what your children are doing so you can step in before a fight begins. If you keep calm, your children will also learn to keep calm.

2. Create a cooperative environment. Do not compare your children. These comparisons create competition between them. When you compare your children with each other, you create competition between them.

3. Celebrate individual accomplishments. Children need to feel you appreciate each of them as individuals. Let each of your children know that he or she is special to you by spending time with them individually.

4. Plan family fun time. Have family dinners, vacations and activities that are great ways for children to bond with one another. This gives each child less incentive to pick fights with each other.

5. Treat your children fairly and not necessarily equally. Punishments and rewards should be tailored to your children’s individual needs. You do not have to give two children the same toy. Instead, give them different toys suited to their ages and interests.

Stopping sibling feuds

Sibling fights are going to happen. What do you do when they happen?

1. Remember two children are involved. You probably will not witness what happens that leads up to the fight. Be careful about who you blame when you do not really know. Focus on each child’s role in the fight.

2. Listen carefully. During a fight, children become frustrated and emotional. Listen to each child and respect his or her feelings. Children need to feel they are being heard.

3. Give your children problem-solving tools. You want to avoid future fights, use the current situation to provide your child with tools for solving problems. Demonstrate how they could compromise, approach a similar situation more positively and more appropriately.

4. Keep punishments private. You do not want to shame a child in front of his or her siblings. This would create greater animosity between them. You want to teach a lesson, not make a huge announcement.

5. Have family talks. Give everyone a chance to say what he or she wants to say. This is a way to have the family make house rules that the family should all follow. Print these rules and hang them in a place everyone sees to remind them of their commitment to being a happy, healthy family.

It is important to remember that your children do not dislike each other. Think of all the times they spend together playing. This is just another kind of behavior that they are experimenting with. You just do not want this kind of behavior to be too frequent, too loud, and too much to handle.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. To reach First Teacher Executive Director Patty Waite, email or call 360-681-2250.

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