Some rivalry between siblings is normal and healthy, as each child competes to define who they are as an individual. All children need to discover who they are, and as they go through this process of finding out what their talents, activities and passions are, they want to show that they are separate from their siblings.
Sibling rivalry can also occur when children feel they are being treated unequally in the way you provide affection and discipline. Sometimes sibling rivalry can become a problem, and be very wearing for parents! The good news is that there are ways of managing it.
1. Make sure you are not unconsciously favouring one child over the other(s)
Sibling rivalry is often caused by jealousy over the way that parents treat their children. You need to be sure that you treat each child fairly and equally. This does not mean you need to treat them the same. Older children should have more privileges and responsibilities than a younger sibling who is not ready for them yet. All children need physical affection, not just the youngest, so make sure everyone gets a hug – they will soon let you know if they don’t want it! Listen to your children if they think they are being treated unequally and make sure you are honest with yourself before dismissing their claims.
2. Try not to foster competition between siblings
Try not to pigeonhole or label your children. When children are labeled ‘best at maths’ or ‘best at sports’ or ‘the most sociable,’ they often become protective of this label and feel threatened by a sibling who is as good as them in this area. Talk to your child about jealous feelings they might have rather than trying to steer another sibling in a different direction. Make sure they know that there’s room for more than one person to be good at something, and praise their efforts rather than their achievements. You can encourage children to cooperate rather than compete by have them race the clock to tidy up the room instead of racing each other.
3. Give each child their own space
Make sure each child has enough space and time on their own. Kids need opportunities to play on their own or play with their own friends without their sibling present, in order to develop independently. Time apart might also dissolve conflict that has been brewing all day. Children also need to know that their space and belongings are respected and protected, so it’s a good idea to set ground rules about entering each other’s rooms if this is a problem.
4. Teach children how to resolve conflict
You should always encourage children to work out disputes themselves before coming to you, but you will need to teach them how to do this. Show them how to communicate what they are feeling, so instead of accusing the person they are angry with, encourage them to say things like “I feel as if …” This turns the conversation into a positive one. Let them know talking is always much more productive than shouting, and that staying in control is more effective than losing their temper. Encourage them to listen to each other. Ask them how they think they could resolve the problem and get them to brainstorm solutions and agree on the one they will use.
5. Set a good example
Children learn from the adults in their lives so if they see you lose control, they’ll believe that is an appropriate way to deal with a conflict. Model the behavior you want them to use in your own reactions with other people both inside and outside the family. When you do need to intervene in sibling conflicts, stay calm and actively listen to each child. Make it clear that hitting or violence of any kind is never okay. Say things like ‘I can see you’re upset. Arguments are never fun. Can you tell me and your brother how you are feeling inside?’ If things have become too heated, give everyone some time alone to calm down before you discuss a resolution and how the conflict was handled.
If your children are physically violent with each other on a regular basis, if one child is always the victim, or if one child is frightened of their sibling, you might need to seek professional help and guidance.
If you have concerns over sibling rivalry or any other behavioural or emotional difficulties your child is experiencing, call us on 0208 6737930 to speak to a child psychologist or family therapist in confidence.