How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry

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Sibling rivalry is certainly a natural occurrence with all siblings, in all families.  A popular movie family that comes to mind when I think of this topic is the Collione family, from the movie the Godfather.  For those of you movie buffs, I’m sure that you can remember the jealousy, resentment and also family loyalty that occurred between these siblings on the big screen.  I’m sure that are sibling rivalry with our families is a little different then the movies…I hope.

In the real world sibling rivalry can be defined as a simple quarrel or conflict that occurs amongst siblings within a family.   This rivalry can start at an early age and often continue into adulthood.  So, as a parent you may want to begin by setting clear boundaries and rules for your children on this issue, right from the beginning.

Where do you start…?

You start from the beginning.  Many times this rivalry begins when there is a new arrival introduced into the family.   Parents can be prepared for the addition of a new little sister or brother by really understanding the roots of sibling rivalry.   As parents we need to remember that young children are fighting for time, attention and love from their most important resource in their lives, which are their parents.  Be prepared from the start.

Be ready for the new addition

Make the big brother/big sister part of the processHonestly explain to them that you have a new baby growing inside of your belly.  Show them pictures and remind them that is how they came into the world.   Kids can easily relate and love to hear stories about themselves and how they were born.  You may even want to invite them on the hospital tour so don’t feel left out and feel part of the process right from the beginning.  It’s very important to keep them involved whenever possible, so they don’t have feelings of being left or old news.  

Check out the library for resourcesThis is a great way to spend quality time with your first born before the new arrival and also a fun way to get resources about what to expect when you become a big brother or big sister. 

Reassure themBe aware that your little one may feel unloved when a cute little baby comes into the picture.  Take the time to reassure them that you will love them both equally and this can help ease any resentment they may have towards a new sibling.  We all need to be reminded of that from time to time.

Roots of Sibling Rivalry

It’s important to recognize the roots of this conflict.  It can range from personality clash, birth order, gender, age, physical attributes, sickness or disabilities to name a few. 

Set Rules and Boundaries

Just like any other concern that occurs within a family, sibling rivalry is no different.  You need to set up clear rules and boundaries for siblings when they are engaged in conflict.   What you need to do is set up a standard for what you think is acceptable behavior.  All ages can take part in setting up the rules and providing consequences when the rules are broken.   It can be as simple as no physical contact, no kicking, no hitting, no yelling or no name calling.   These rules allow the children to take responsibility for their own actions; as well as an opportunity to resolve their conflicts on their own without a parent coming to the rescue.  This can sometimes be difficult for many parents.  It is natural for a parent to want to jump in when you hear your children arguing and try to assign blame.  I would say that when parents do this they end up blame the wrong child and it just makes the children more dependent on the adults to resolve their issues and increases the conflict.

If you are one of those parents, then I think you are doing your children a disservice.   They need to have the ability to develop the necessary skills that are required for conflict resolution.  What better place to learn then in their own home and under your guidance and support.

Remember to make it fair.  Every parent has heard their child say “that’s not fair” many times I’m sure.  This is a great way for children to get a reaction from their parents.  Don’t fall into the trap.  You’ve set the rules and now you just need to provide guidance when necessary.  They can do the rest on their own.  The best rule of thumb is to let them battle it out and don’t get involved unless you really have to. Give them the opportunity to work on their conflict resolution skills while they are young.  It will make their lives much easier down the road.

How Do you Support your Children through the Sibling Conflict

What do I do when my children are fighting?

Again make sure you allow them to work out their problems on their own.  You can give them some guidance if things get out of hand, by asking them how they are going to resolve the situation or what can you both do that will make you both happy.

Be prepared.  You may want to buy duplicates of popular toys or remove certain items that are a continuous source of conflict.  You also may want to support and help your children share.  It can be as simple as teaching lessons on taking turns…first you, then me.  Allow your children to decide when and how something will be shared.  However, you may not want to pressure your child to share their favorite toy, this may be considered off limits.

You’re the role model– Don’t forget that your little ones are watching how you handle conflicts within your marriage, with your friends and other family members.  Do as I say not as I do, will not work in this situation.  Kids are looking to their parents for examples on how to handle conflict effectively.  Be a good role model.

Consequences Remind the kids that there are consequences for their behavior.  If they break the rules then this will happen. (whatever consequences you have all agreed upon when you created the rules)

It is very common for siblings to fight in any household.  Please keep in mind that the best role a parent can play when dealing with sibling rivalry is stay out of it (when possible), let them have the opportunity to work things out, set clear guidelines and be a good role model for your children.

Nicole Chiello is the Director of The Children’s Workshop in Smithfield, RI. She recieved a BA in Elementary Education and Psychology from URI. Nicole has been with the team for four years.  Before being a director, she was a school-age coordinator in Warwick, as well as a substitute for the Public Schools. Her favorite thing about working with children is the guarantee that every day is different!