Written by: Pippa Birch
Sibling rivalry is occurs between brothers and sisters for various reasons and usually down to competition and jealousy. It can start even before a second child is born and can stay with siblings well into adulthood. But it is a common occurrence and there are methods of coping and nurturing your children’s relationships with each other, ensuring your household stays as happy and harmonious as possible.
Why do they fight so much?
There are many reasons sibling rivalry occurs. Competition and jealousy are natural rivalries – who gets the most attention, who gets the biggest portion of cake, who gets to stay up a bit later and so forth.
Another reason is due to a difference in their times of life – toddlers have a different view to their toys than school age children, teenagers want more privacy than their younger siblings and all have differing needs in the household.
Every child is different – they have different temperaments and unique personalities. This should be celebrated but it is bound to cause a few differences between siblings.
The way parents behave in the home can also affect how siblings act toward each other. If children see their parents shout, slam doors etc when they disagree with one another, they are bound to follow suit, however if you as parents resolve things calmly, respectively and productively, they will naturally mirror that when resolving problems themselves.
What to do about sibling rivalry?
Fighting is not pleasant but does happen, and it helps to have measures and plans in place to manage and ultimately deter the fighting.
The first tip is to not get involved; a hard one to swallow but if you intervene, you may create further problems. They don’t learn to stand up for themselves or one feels like the other is being “protected”, creating further resentment. Obviously, if there is a risk of physical harm to either child, it is absolutely necessary to step in before anyone gets hurt.
If you do feel the need to step in, help the children to resolve the problems, rather than doing it for them. Ensure that their language is appropriate. Separate them at first in order to calm down and wait until the heady emotions subside. Don’t apportion blame – it takes two to fight so both are partly responsible. Try to create a win-win situation so that each child takes away something positive, for example, if they are young children fighting over a toy, persuade them to play with something else together.
Helping children to learn these skills; compromise, negotiation, seeing from others perspective, controlling aggression, ensures that they can cope with these situations in life. Sibling rivalry need not be a negative thing. By teaching your children to deal positively with the situations, you are providing them with abilities that will assist them in their adulthood.
Creating positive relationships
There are things that parents can do to prevent these fights, or at least minimise them:
- Set ground rules for disputes – no name calling, door slamming, yelling etc. Get the children to help you write the “rules” on a big bit of paper and post them up in the kitchen.
- Ensure that they know that life isn’t always fair and equal. Sometimes one child will need more hugs, privacy etc
- Spend quality one-to-one time with each child doing what they like to do. If one likes playing football, take them out, if another likes arts and crafts, spend an hour doing sticking and gluing. Children also need time apart doing different things, so schedule a play date for one and spend this quality time with the other. Also have fun together as a family; watching a film, playing a board game or taking a picnic to the park. This creates a healthy family dynamic
- Ensure your children know that they are loved and safe no matter what. There are no limitations on love and it doesn’t come with conditions.
- Family meetings and rules can help frequent squabblers – schedules for computer time etc, reinforcing the rules, a reward chart for compromises etc
Of course a minority of situations go beyond self-help and professional advice should be sought. This is particularly needed where the conflict is severe enough to be affecting a marriage or affects the children emotionally, psychologically, damages self-esteem or even results in physical harm. Speak to your GP who will put you in touch with the right professional help, before it gets out of hand!