Child behavioural problems, as we know, require a great deal of patience. Yet resolving sibling rivalries often requires extra sensitivity on the part of the parent or caregiver in order to accommodate two children’s personalities and fairly balance the interests of both little competitors. If not handled immediately and correctly, sibling rivalries can sometimes spiral out of control.
The cause of the rivalry can differ, of course, from family to family. There are many things that can trigger it. Jealousy and competitiveness are a big factor. Your children are just trying to find their own individuality; each and every one of them has their own special qualities. Never assume that one child doesn’t need as much attention as the other because they are quiet or never complain.
A child’s maturity can also factor into problems between siblings. For example, if your only child has always been your “baby”, then a new baby comes along and you expect your 6 year old to behave all of a sudden like a big boy, this can be confusing. This can also be the case if you have a second child and a third one comes along. In these situations, try to prepare your child during the pregnancy very gently by giving him more responsibility and independence.
Try not to compare your children to each other. For example, maybe you have one child who performs better in school than the other; find something that the other one is good at and encourage him along. If you have one child that excels in most things, then try not to give her the same activities as the one to whom things don’t come quite so easy.
Maybe one of your kids has certain traits that remind you of a relative your child can tell you’re not fond of; please try to refrain from saying so out loud, especially if another child draws frequent comparisons to a favoured relative. This could not only cause conflict between the children but also have long-lasting effects on your own relationship with them.
Try to avoid having your children compete against each other; encourage them to work as a team. Although I am not against children being competitive, if you’re having a rivalry problem, put it aside for a while and only have them work together. Plan family outings or activities where the kids can have fun together.
When trying to resolve or avoid conflicts:
- Try not to take sides.
- If something has got out of hand, just put them both in a quiet time for 5 minutes to defuse the situation.
- If they are fighting about a toy, take the toy away.
- If one child is laughing or mocking another child because they are in time out, they also get put in time out.
- There should be zero tolerance for physical violence; it doesn’t matter what they fight about or whose fault it is – if one child strikes another, that is time out immediately.
- Try and teach them to negotiate and compromise with each other.
- You can make a rota (roster) if you find that they fight over little things like who gets the first bedtime story.
- Don’t argue with your spouse in front of the children; not only is this very unsettling but can also send the wrong message to your little ones.
If you have older children that are just not seeing eye to eye, hold a family meeting once a week. This way everybody gets their say and everybody has to listen. “She borrows my shoes but doesn’t put them back,” or “He plays his music too loud when I am trying to study.” Pass no judgement; just talk it through. That gives you the chance to take part without taking sides. Also discuss positive things too, like interests, events of the past week, or school.
Mum and dad join in too; talk about current affairs or whatever you want. Just try to make a place where there is no shouting or conflict. If one person is talking, let them finish; nobody is allowed to interrupt.
You might want to keep a little journal or mental notes to see if there is a pattern in aggressive behaviour between siblings. Is it just after school? Just before meal times? Just before naptime? Has there been some change in their family life? If you notice that the fighting has gone beyond bickering and has turned more into physical bullying, then I would seek some outside advice. Maybe call the school and find out if there is anything going on at school and what their behaviour is like. Ask the school also how the children act in certain situations. This might help you figure out if the problem is a sibling thing or an aggression issue. The school might give you some advice or help you find somebody who could.
If any readers out there have any reassuring stories to share about overcoming sibling rivalries, please feel free to leave a comment!