5 Easy Ways to Stop Sibling Rivalry
Every parent goes weak at the knees at the sight of their children playing harmoniously together. Holding hands. Sharing. Talking sweetly with each other. This is the stuff dreams are made of. But all too often the smiles can turn to shrieks as sibling playtime spirals into a feral free-for-all. And why is that? Much of it has to do with sibling rivalry. So if you dream of the day when your children will join hands and skip off into the sunset together, or at least, down the grocery aisle, then here are 5 top tips for putting an end to sibling rivalry once and for all.
5 ways to stop sibling rivalry
Don’t play favourites
This is an obvious one: if you consistently favour a particular child then it’s only natural that the others will become jealous and act out. So be mindful of what you do and say. Ideally your praise should be specific, effort focused, making it so individual it can’t turn into a debate or comparison. Check out this guide on how to praise your kids.
Even some seemingly harmless praise can trigger sibling rivalry, particularly if you have a sensitive child and especially if your praise is very general. Swap out phrases that indicate favoritism such as “the best” and “the most” for less quantitative phrases such as “very good” “so great”. So for example, instead of saying “You’re just the best little kid in the world!” you might say, “You’re just such a great little kid!”. That way when a sibling asks “What about me?” you can say, “You’re great too!”. Because even kids know there’s only one “best”.
When sibling rivalry arises, hold all children responsible for the fighting
You know how it starts: a little snigger from one child, the other pulls a face, next comes a not-so-gentle nudge and before you know it there’s an all out brawl. As long as the exchange is more or less equal, hold both (or all, if more than two) children accountable. It doesn’t matter how it started or who said the most offensive thing, the point is that your kids must understand that engaging in fighting and bickering will bring consequences for everyone. Don’t try to play judge and figure out who is to blame – you should try to stay out of your children’s fights and instead focus on implementing the consequences.
The exception to this rule is when you identify that one child is bullying the other on an ongoing basis. Behavioural Therapist James Lehman suggests, “If one of your children bullies his siblings and has to be the boss and control others to the point of getting physical, it indicates some underlying self-doubt and serious errors in thinking. He is somehow justifying being hurtful to others in order to make himself feel better. In these cases, you have to hold all of your kids responsible when there is an argument, but you have to hold the bully responsible for any aggression over and above the bickering.” Read the whole article here that helps you to identify this situation in your home.
Curb jealousy by highlighting strengths
If your child is feeling inadequate because their sibling is shining a little brighter than usual, be sure to point out their own strengths, without taking away from the other. Sound tricky? It’s not. Something as simple as “Yes, Sarah did win her race – I’m really happy for her because she practiced really hard. And I saw you practicing hard too at your reading/gymnastics/painting and I really think you’re doing a great job!”. The point here is to make sure that i) your child is reassured that they too are doing great at something ii) your child is aware that you are proud of them for what they are doing and iii) the achievement of your other child is not downplayed.
Manage your child’s feelings
Jealousy, rivalry, feelings of inadequacy… as much as we wish we could shield our children from these emotions, they are in fact normal under certain circumstances. And as anyone who has watched a nature documentary knows, fighting amoung brothers and sisters growing up can be a sort of “practice” for those who might do you harm in the big bad world. Nonetheless, these feelings are uncomfortable and it’s important to acknowledge them, talk about them and speak and act in a way that provides counter-balance feelings of love, safety and self-worth. It is also important to keep checking in with your children’s feelings, so that any serious and lasting resentment is identified and dealt with appropriately.
Nip boredom in the bud
Sometimes siblings fight simply because they’re bored. If that’s the case, then try to come up with some fun (and energy-consuming!) activities that the whole family can get into. Pizza-making, building a den, a lip-syncing air guitar performance; anything where each child can contribute and feel valued. Better still, have your kids work together as a team. How about a scavenger hunt, kids versus parents? They’ll be so busy trying to beat you they won’t have time to bicker. Also sometimes, some time apart is the best thing for siblings, so organise some playdates or tag team with your partner to take your kids out for different outings by themselves.
Still want more? These pages contain some additional information on sibling rivalry, such as the most common causes of sibling rivalry (1, 2), and also what to do in special cases, for example when one child is handicapped (3).