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Settling Sibling Rivalry

Dealing with one of nature’s most divisive devices.

“Mom, she’s looking at me!”

“Dad, he won’t give me the toy I want!”

From the time they can talk, your children seem to have it out for one another. And in-between the punches and kicks, the name-calling and face-making, you wonder what you’re supposed to do. Well, wonder no more. Because you’re about to find out all about sibling rivalry, including how to make it have a more pleasant ending.

It’s Normal

For many parents, having children who bicker and fight is very upsetting. Some parents even feel they have somehow failed when they see their children fighting day after day over the same thing, different things, and everything that arises. But you should know that despite your greatest attempts, you will likely never squelch sibling rivalry fully.

Sibling rivalry can come about for many reasons. Older children may get angry because they get stuck watching their younger brothers or sisters. While the problem is that these older kids would rather be playing video games, this anger gets aimed at the little brother or sister. Or if there is preferential treatment of one child, the other child will act out against the preferred sibling in order to get attention – even if the extra attention is due to special needs. And of course, kids, like adults, can get frustrated with one another due to clashing personalities.

Suppress and Conquer

While you can’t put an end to all bickering and fighting between your kids, you can help them avoid excessive rivalry. A few ways to limit the back-and-forth fighting over the next 18 years include the following:

  • Never compare your children. By doing this, you cause one to feel superior and the other inferior, a sure-fire way to induce rivalry.
  • Talk about anger. Feeling frustrated or angry or experiencing feelings of resentment are normal. Let your children know this, but make sure they know it’s not okay to hurt one another in the heat of the moment.
  • Model good behavior. If your children never see you handle differences without using your fists, they won’t understand how to do it in their daily sibling interactions.

Let ‘Em at It

As you know, life is one of the best teachers. With that in mind, you should not butt into every disagreement your children have. Instead, sit back and let them have their petty disagreements over who gets to use the shower first, and only step in when it looks like it could get dangerous for one or both of them.

By giving them a little breathing room, you provide your children with the opportunity to learn how to negotiate with one another and to get control over themselves, even when furious. If your children resort to nasty name-calling, it’s okay to give a little guidance on common courtesy and tone. Just be sure you’re not swooping down to save one child or the other from the disagreement, as doing this will encourage even more sibling rivalry.

Teach Them Right

Before your children start throwing punches and calling names, you may be able to keep them under control with a little preventive rule setting. When your children aren’t in the sibling-rivalry mode, talk with them about what you expect out of them at all times. What words can they say to make their point? Is name calling acceptable? If so, in what situations? Is it okay for a brother or sister to throw something at a sibling at any time?

Once you’ve made your expectations for your children clear to them in all situations, they’ll better understand how to conduct themselves when the urge to hurt one another kicks in. And in the event they have a difficult time meeting your expectations, they’ll know the consequences that await.

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