Tips for Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

If you’re a parent of siblings, you already know that siblings fight. The question on most parents-of-siblings’ minds, however, is: How can I get my kids to fight less? Read more >

Step 1: Know why siblings fight.

Most siblings fight to get a parent’s attention. Who usually feels slighted? Typically the youngest (or one of the younger kids). Researchers find that younger kids tend to bug their older siblings in order to get their parents’ attention.

Younger siblings also tend to follow their older siblings around (and get into their things) because they want to be with the older sibling. If the older sibling is ignoring them, younger siblings can do all kinds of things to get the older sibling’s attention: including picking a fight with them.

So what can you do to tame the sibling squabbles?

Protect young children:
If an older sibling gets angry with a baby (who pulls her hair), she may be capable of seriously injuring her younger sibling. So when children are young, protect them from an older sibling. Some parents even make it a rule never to have an older sibling babysit a younger sibling. Generally speaking, a teenager will take better care of someone else’s child rather than his or her own sibling. Younger siblings also tend to know which buttons to push, so an older sibling can get caught up in the heat of the moment and become more of an angry sibling rather than a baby-sitter if the younger sibling really crosses the line.

Stay out of most fights
Remember: most siblings fight to get your attention. So stay out of the fights as much as possible. (Make an exception if your kids are really hurting each other.) This doesn’t mean you should let your kids fight as often as they want. Instead, teach them the skills to resolve conflicts well. Give them the following four-step problem-solving plan created by discipline expert, Jane Nelsen, Ed.D.

1. Ignore the problem. Walk away.
2. Talk over the problem respectfully.
3. Create a solution that both parties agree on.
4. Ask for help if you can’t find a solution.

When you intervene, don’t pick sides
When you do get involved in a fight, don’t look for the perpetrator of the victim. Unless you witnessed the entire fight, you’re not going to get an accurate account from either child. (Both will blame the other.) Some parents separate the children and tell them to cool down before going back to playing. Other parents play journalist. They take a pencil (or some other object to mimic a microphone), and say: “I’m a reporter for the Family News. Tell me, what happened here?” Give the pretend mic to one child. After that child finishes, give the mic to the other child to tell about what happened. Then see yourself as a reporter: gathering information only. Don’t become a referee and declare one sibling the winner and the other the loser. That will only lead to more fights.

Work on building sibling relationships
If you want siblings to fight less, create ways for them to get to know each other and enjoy being together. Doing activities together as a family can build and strengthen these bonds. That’s why family trips and vacations are important. Getaways pull your family out of your daily interactions and environment and force your family to spend time together.

If you have siblings that are four or more years apart, it can take a long time for siblings to build relationships with each other. Typically, siblings that are far apart tend to ignore each other during childhood because developmentally they’re at different stages. It’s important, however, to create ways for siblings to interact and build relationships. In our family, our two kids are six years apart, and they have completely different personalities. Getaways and pets have brought them closer. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve also become more interested in each others lives. Keep finding connecting points between your kids to help them enjoy being together.

Tell Us:——> How do you get your siblings to connect?

1. Burton L. White, The First Three Years of Life (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).

2. Jane Nelsen, Positive Discipline (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996).

3. Siblings, ParentFurther.

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