Handling Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry can develop for many reasons:

  • In some cases it’s due to the personalities of the children
  • Other times children may feel jealous
  • For example, one sibling is really good at playing sports or is really good at school, but the other one struggles with these things.

Some sibling rivalry is to be expected.

  • For example, if you had two best friends living together in the same house they would have some conflict and arguments from time to time.

The goal then is not to try to prevent sibling rivalry, but instead helping your children deal with any issues that arise between them in a constructive way.

If the rivalry takes the form of physical fighting between the children, it is very important for children to know that there is a “no hurting” rule.

  • As opposed to just saying, “no pinching” or “no grabbing”, letting your children know that there is a “no hurting” rule widens their understanding of negative behaviours.
  • Let them know right away that you won’t tolerate that behaviour by saying, “we don’t hurt anyone in this family.”

If the children are arguing constantly, letting them work things out on their own is good in many cases.

  • Be ready to step in when these little arguments start turning into long-standing issues.
  • New research shows that children can suffer immensely if verbal taunts and threats by brothers and sisters go on and on.

To keep things peaceful, try to give each child one-on-one attention at least part of each day. This will make each child feel that they are still special to you.

Don’t compare your children.

  • Sometimes parents fuel sibling rivalry by using one child as an example to the other. They ask, “Why can’t you listen like your brother?” or “Why can’t you have a clean room like your sister?”
  • This tends to create resentment rather than be helpful.
  • Let your children know that it is okay to be different.

When jealousy takes over, it’s important not to blame one child or the other.

  • Encourage the children to talk about their feelings of envy and jealousy.

It’s not going to be easy, but try to stay calm and listen to what they have to say in these situations. Try to emphasize the strengths of each individual child.

Share the consequences.

When there is an issue that you are brought into, don’t take sides. Ask each child for their side of the story without any interruptions. Ask the children what they think the solution is and, if it is reasonable, support their solution. If they can’t come up with a solution you can proceed with a couple of options.

  1. Ask the children to work out a solution, and until they do, they are not allowed to do anything else.
  2. Come up with a solution yourself, but make sure that both of the children are involved. Don’t give a consequence to just one child. Remember it takes “two to tango.”

Have you children apologize when they do something wrong.

  • Saying I’m sorry is critical to the maintenance of loving relationships. It says that “I care that I hurt you or upset you.” At the end of any issue, have your child apologize to the other.
  • If both are involved in “causing” the issue they should both apologize.
  • If they are not ready, ask them to sit quietly until they are, even if it takes a while.
  • Finally, make sure the tone is right, an angry, “I’m sorry,” does not convey the right message.