By Lisa Pecos
Sibling rivalry can take many forms over the years. When the second child is first born, it can take the form of acting out, regression, and fussiness on the part of the older child. And as the kids grow up, it can turn into arguing, physical fighting, and deep feelings of jealousy and resentment. Most sibling rivalry is more of an annoyance than a serious problem, but it can become emotionally taxing to parents who had hoped their children would get along and love each other.
There are a few points to keep in mind that might help you cope emotionally with your children’s rivalry. First, a little fighting does not mean your children do not love each other. Second, remember that a little competition is natural, and that it may actually help build certain skills in your children. Third, keep in mind that children who fight often go on to be best of friends when they get older. And fourth, you are not alone. Virtually every multi-child family must deal with sibling rivalry at one time or another.
What causes sibling rivalry?
In most cases, the causes of sibling rivalry actually are not so deep. It is just a competition for parental love and attention. At any given time, one child may feel that the other is getting more, and this may lead to bad feelings, even if the feelings are unconscious. At different times in a child’s development, these feelings may be more intense than at others.
Meanwhile, some kids are just temperamentally more combative than others. Perhaps one of your children is continually picking fights with another, who usually does not start the conflict. In such cases, it is the parents’ job to moderate the rivalry without seeming to favor the gentler child over the more combative one.
Also, it has been shown that kids who live in conflict-ridden households are more likely to fight with their siblings. When parents frequently fight openly within earshot of their kids, for this behavior to rub off on the children is only natural. That is one reason why parents who want to avoid sibling rivalry should argue privately if they must argue at all.
What should parents do?
Parenting experts recommend that mom and dad stay uninvolved in sibling
arguments for as long as possible. By getting involved, you teach the children that they can always turn to you when they have an argument, and you risk being perceived as taking sides or protecting one child over the other. If you feel you must get involved, start by merely trying to guide the kids to their own resolution, warning them in the process not to call names or be abusive to one another.
In short, it is best for everyone if the kids can learn how to solve their disagreements without parental intervention. And when you decide to intervene, the goal should be to deflate the situation so everyone has time to calm down and the disagreement can de-escalate. Often, kids just need a little time apart to get over their feelings. And in the meantime, try not to place blame on anyone.
Here are a few other tips that can help parents deal with sibling rivalries:
- Discourage kids from talking about what is or is not “fair.” Let them know that things are not always equal, and that they both need different things at different times.
- Make sure each child gets plenty of one-on-one attention, and encourage each individually to pursue his or her interests and be who he or she wants to be.
- Make sure the children get time apart from each other.
- Make it clear that they need to love each other even though they fight. Banish words like “hate” and other extreme terms.
- If the kids commonly fight over certain items or activities, set a schedule for when each child gets a turn.
- If it becomes too much for you to handle, consider seeing a family counselor.
Lisa Pecos is a wife and well accomplished writer on natural remedies and natural approaches to family health. She’s written numerous articles for Natural Health Journals.com, Parenting Journals.com and Baby Care Journals.com.