Learn how to keep the peace and reduce sibling rivalry conflicts so that your children get along.
Your kids are content playing a game of soccer in the yard. You smile at your two offspring who are BFFs. So, you happily bury your head in a book for some much-needed ‘me time’. Not for long though. That’s because the next minute, they’re pushing and shoving each other in a spat of sibling rivalry. You toss your book aside and are stuck playing referee.
Sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up. “It is natural that children within every family may love each other very deeply, but at the same time, can hardly escape moments in which one child resents the other,” says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a Manhattan-based child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character. Kids are trying to compete for your love and respect. They’re attempting to express their needs and wants.
Other factors that impact how well kids get along include sex, personality, family size, age, and birth order. Kids close in age, for example, might fight more than ones farther apart. Kids of the same sex might be more likely to compete against one another. Middle children might act out more since they may not get the same attention or privileges as their older or younger siblings.
7 Strategies to Reduce Sibling Rivalry
Yes, nearly all siblings are bound to fight, hit, scream, tease, and tattle. Whatever the cause, it’s important that you foster a good relationship between siblings and ensure that any conflicts don’t damage their relationship. Here is how you can manage sibling rivalry:
Kids should understand the house ground rules, which should include no hitting, cursing, damaging property, or calling one another names. They should know what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior. They should also be aware of the consequences when they misbehave. Praise them when they do follow the rules.
“It’s hard for parents to resist comparisons between their offspring, especially when the parent is annoyed at one of them while the other is being a perfect angel,” Dr. Berger says. That’s why you should do your best not to point out your kids’ differences in abilities and behaviors in front of them.
“Each child is an individual,” says Edward Kulich, M.D., who provides house calls in the New York area with his practice KidsHousecalls. Your child might feel like he’s being criticized or think he’s not as loved as his sibling. “Comparisons between children only reinforce the rivalry,” Dr. Berger adds. “Comparison tends to emphasize that the parent is trying to identify a winner and a loser, rather than admiring each child as an individual.”
Punish in private.
If you have to punish or scold your child, don’t do so in front of her sibling. That may lead to teasing. Instead, do it in a private and quiet place.
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Spend time with each child.
Give each child 1-on-1 time. That way you aren’t unknowingly promoting competition. “Try to carve out a specific block of time where the child knows that he has your undivided attention,” Dr. Kulich says. “Put your phone down and be engaged.” It’s also a good way to give your children their own space and time apart from one another.
Even 5 minutes with your child can be beneficial, Dr. Berger says. It doesn’t have to be an activity either. At bedtime, she says, you can ask your child, “What was important to you about today?” to get the ball rolling toward a meaningful conversation.
Let the older one help with the younger one.
Strengthen kids’ relationships with each other by encouraging your child to be a proud older sibling. Let your older one help change a diaper or choose her sibling’s outfit for the day.
Practice what you preach.
Model good behavior, and you’ll hopefully get that in return. “The development of a child’s character is always based on the parents own character,” Dr. Berger says. “That’s why children who are treated with respect, honesty, trust, and kindness grow up to be respectful, honest, trustworthy, and kind.” Kids look to their parents for positive behaviors, such as how their parents resolve an argument. “Children more often copy their parents’ behavior than listen to their parents’ words,” Dr. Kulich says. “‘Do as I say not as I do’ is not a very effective parenting strategy.”
Praise positive individual behavior.
Heap on the praise, but do so properly. “Praising children for getting along is likely to remind them of all the reasons they don’t want to get along,” Dr. Berger warns. “It could burst the bubble.” Instead, praising a child for being a good older brother or sister may help the child feel pride in his role, she says.
Stacey Feintuch is a freelance writer for print and online publications. She lives in Bergen County, NJ, and is mom to two boys.
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