5 Tips for Managing Sibling Rivalry
Every parent with multiple children deals with discord between siblings. Often, parents struggle with how to resolve conflict fairly and effectively. They tend to ask themselves, “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who do you punish? Who should you believe? Where do you draw the line?” Quarrels between siblings are normal and often unavoidable. Here are some tips for managing sibling rivalry and fostering friendship between siblings.:
Foster a sense of collaboration rather than competition. It’s quite easy to play up our children’s natural ability to want to win. “Let’s see who can get their shoes on first,” “Let’s race upstairs to brush our teeth,” “Who can eat the most bites of broccoli?” This works. And, it usually helps us to reach the short-term goal of getting the task completed. The downfall to this approach is that it emphasizes the sense of competition between siblings. Soon, every task will be something that is seen as a competition to determine who can do it the best or the most quickly. This may seem like a small sacrifice given that it usually gets children to mind the parent. However, in the future, this will translate to other topics. Who is the best piano player? Who has the most friends? Who is the smartest? The better way to approach the “race” to get the job done is to make it a collaborative effort. “Let’s all race upstairs together to brush our teeth so that we can read 2 books rather than 3 before we go to bed! “ “Let’s work together to get these chores done so that we can have extra time to have popcorn and watch a movie!” The key is to be on the same team rather than being opponents.
Don’t get so caught up in making things “equal” that you overlook each child’s individual needs. Understandably, parents are concerned about sibling rivalry and sometimes go too far to ensure that everything is exactly the same for each child. Although this is usually done with the best of intentions, this approach can actually hinder self-expression and leave both children feeling inadequate. If Annie struggles with her grades, rewarding her for timely homework completion will be important for her. If Annie’s sister, Sarah, is an academic, then rewarding timely homework will be less important to her. Annie may not feel as successful if Sarah gets the same accolades for academic achievements. And Sarah will, no doubt, need reinforcement in some other area. This doesn’t mean to ignore the achievements of any child, but rather understand that it is okay to reward Annie for some things and Sarah for others.
Spend quality time alone with each child and, during that time, work together to figure out a way of making siblings feel special. It’s no secret that family time equals bonding. It’s equally important to spend time alone with each child. But, even beyond that, when you are alone with one child, foster a sense of caring by asking him/her to think about how to make sister or brother feel important. “While we are out today, pick out a small prize for your brother. Let’s think about what will make him smile when we get home this afternoon.” The focus of the trip does not need to become about brother, but remembering brother’s feelings can help foster a sense of togetherness and “family,” even when brother is not present.
Let them play, and let them argue. Arguing can be healthy. Siblings are actually practicing conflict resolution in a safe environment when they argue with one another in the presence of mom and dad. Parents tend to want to interject and squash the argument before it escalates. Often, if parents allow the children to have the argument, the children can come up with a resolution independently. The resolution may not be the one that the parent would have chosen, but it is often a healthy resolution nonetheless. The caveat to this would be that parents do need to interject if arguments become physical or if one child is demeaning the other (i.e., name calling, bullying).
Have them identify each other’s strengths. This is an exercise that will benefit them for years to come. Being able to identify and appreciate the strengths of other people will foster collaboration with others in the future. In turn, having a brother or sister recognize your strengths is an impactful way to foster self-esteem and increase self-confidence.