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Sibling Rivalry - Lose the Fighting, Not the Love

By Lori Radun, CEC

Are you tired of listening to your children bicker? Do you long for them to get along and love each other? Sibling rivalry can be exasperating, often interfering with our ability to enjoy our children. It may be helpful to know though that sibling rivalry has been going on forever. Some degree of fighting is perfectly normal. It exists in every family that has two or more children, so take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Some siblings get along fairly well, while others fight constantly.

Having awareness about what causes sibling rivalry can help you begin to understand this dynamic. When you can get to the root of an issue, it is easier to brainstorm solutions. Just like adults, children have their own personalities and temperaments and sometimes their differences clash. Age is another factor involved in sibling rivalry. An older child may feel burdened by more responsibility or a younger child may be caught up in trying to compete with his older sibling. In addition, differences in interests change as a child ages. What is fun for a 5 and 7 year old may be considered immature for a 10 year old. A child's sex can cause resentment as well. Let's face it. Boys and girls are treated differently. A boy could be jealous of how his sister's emotions are pampered. A girl could envy the time her brother spends wrestling with his father. A child's position in the family can also play a role in sibling rivalry. We often expect more from our first born children. By the time the 2nd and 3rd come along, the rules loosen somewhat. And sometimes the baby of the family receives very special treatment. Everyone tries to make her happy when she is mad or sad. At times the youngest will be overly assertive to gain her equal place in the family.

All of these issues can play a part, but the most significant factor that affects sibling rivalry is parental attitude. As parents, we know we should treat our children equally and fairly. And most of us probably try very hard to do that, however inconsistencies will still exist. There may be a child you get along better with because of your personalities. Perhaps one or more of your children are easier to handle so they have a tendency to receive more loving treatment from you. Children pick up on every bit of inconsistency and they don't always understand why things are different for each child. Older age children have more responsibilities, but more independence. A younger child just thinks it is unfair that she has to go to bed earlier than her older sibling. How many times do you hear the words, "It's not fair!" or "You love her more than you love me."?

I know you're waiting for the magical secret to eliminate sibling rivalry in your home. Sorry - there are no magical secrets, but here are ten practical suggestions to help minimize the tension between siblings.

Avoid making comparisons of any kind - not to your children and not at any time they may be privy to the conversation. Focus on the gifts in each of your children and capitalize on their differences.

Encourage your children to express their resentment or angry feelings. This does not mean you allow them to scream at or hurt each other. Teach your children to handle their anger constructively, not destructively. Acknowledge and validate your children's feelings so they feel understood. Help each child see things from the other child's perspective.

Have very clear boundaries about personal belongings and personal space. Make it a rule that no one is allowed to use another person's belongings without permission. Teach your children to respect each other's personal space - bedrooms, their bodies, etc. A child needs to feel like there are at least some things that belong to him.

Avoid situations that promote guilt in siblings. Don't allow them to do something they will regret later. Teach them self-control. And remember comparing produces guilty feelings.

Teach your children to settle their own differences. This doesn't mean you allow them to have a knock down drag out fight. It means you teach them what respectful behavior looks like and how to compromise and work together. Have them practice these behaviors until they become the norm.

Help your children live a balanced and healthy life. Stress can play a big role in children's moods and ability to handle everyday situations. Monitor the amount of activities your children participate in. Make sure they get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise, and take time for quiet relaxation.

Introduce a "value" of the month program. Teach and reinforce family values like respect, cooperation, peace, and kindness - focus on one value per month. Use family devotionals, games, books, and movies that help the children understand and practice these values.

Spend one on one time with each child. Children are always fighting for individual attention from their parents. They don't want to have to share the one or two most important people of their life. Make a point to give each child your undivided attention and quality time with you on a regular basis. Make a family ritual. On Tuesday night, Joey gets special "mommy time" and on Thursday Sally gets the same.

Have family fun nights. Encourage family togetherness by instituting a family fun night. Sit down and play games together or go play miniature golf. One rule: No fighting or family time is over. Make this time sacred for everyone in the family.

Hold weekly family meetings. This is a time when the family comes together to talk about their concerns and brainstorm solutions. All family members are encouraged to share and all communication is healthy and respected.

Sibling rivalry can really add to the stress of family life. If you actively implement some of these strategies, you will begin to see improvements. Keep working at it. The reward of having healthy and loving adult sibling relationships is well worth the effort you make.

About The Author
Lori Radun, CEC - certified life coach for moms.

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