Stop the Squabbles: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

Parents of more than one child are likely familiar with the shouts, taunts, and even tears that result from a fight between siblings. While it might seem difficult to deal with, there are some strategies you can employ to help promote a better relationship between your children.

Understand the issues

Perhaps your children got along well until the eldest decided they were too old to play make-believe anymore, or maybe your youngest child feels pressure to do things the same way as an older sibling. Understanding what could be at the root of sibling squabbles could help you to begin solving the problem.

For example, if your preschooler is showing resentment towards their infant sibling, it could be that they feel they have been displaced. Try getting your preschooler involved by asking them to bring you diapers or helping you tell the baby a story. This may help your older child feel compassion and care towards their sibling, rather than resentment.

Help your children work through their issues

According to Psychology Today, “research shows that children with poor sibling relationships are at higher risk for behavior problems and that sibling bullying is strongly correlated to peer bullying.” Helping your children disagree without becoming verbally or physically abusive will teach them how to respect others.

For example, if your school-age child has begun calling your preschooler names or teasing them, take your older child aside and have a discussion. Remind them that your preschooler is younger and still growing and learning. Help your older child see things from their sibling’s perspective, and teach them coping strategies for frustration such as taking deep breaths or even leaving the room.

Avoid making comparisons

No two children are alike. One of your children may reach certain milestones earlier than another, and it can be tempting to ask one child to try emulate their sibling. However, your child may feel like they are being unfairly judged or criticized, and this can lead to resentment. Instead, identify and respect each child’s unique personality, motivations, and stage in life. This will show your children that they are each loved for who they are.

Respect each child’s feelings

Many parents of multiple children have gotten fed up with the fighting at one point or another. To an adult, a screaming match between siblings over a specific toy can seem frustrating and unnecessary. However, to the children, it can be about more than the toy itself.

While it is not advisable to take sides in a sibling dispute, it’s important to discuss your child’s feelings with them. Even if they may not be able to express themselves clearly, you may be able to discern the root cause of an argument. For example, it may be that the toy was a favorite of your eldest child, and they are hesitant to give it up to their sibling. They might feel embarrassed about being considered a baby, so they resort to forcibly taking the toy away from their sibling.

If your child was particularly angry, acknowledge their anger while reminding them that certain behaviors, such as hitting, are still inappropriate.

Pick your battles

While it might seem counterintuitive in the moment, letting your children argue might be the best option. They will often be able to settle minor disagreements on their own. However, do keep an eye on the spat, and be prepared to step in if necessary, especially if the argument is escalating to physical or emotional harm.

Give your children one-on-one time

Vying for their parent’s attention is one of the most common factors in sibling rivalry. Giving your children individualized, positive attention separately may help to calm the situation overall. Make a point to spend at least ten minutes of quality time with each child every day. This will show them that you do hear and understand them, and they may no longer find it necessary to fight each other to get your attention.

While it may seem like sibling rivalry is clashing with your vision of a peaceful household, these tips can help your children live together more harmoniously.