Sibling Rivalry and Conflict

When siblings fight and bicker they are learning more about human relationships and how to resolve conflicts. Nevertheless, when children argue or are physical towards each other it can be very stressful for the parents. How can parents handle sibling fighting and rivalry in a way that allows them to keep their sanity?

Taking Sides
When children argue, parents often want to interfere. It is not always necessary to step in when your children are disagreeing with each other. Conflict is a normal part of all human relationships. It is only necessary to intervene when the fights escalat, or if the children are sincerely struggling to resolve the conflict.

If you have to step in, resist the urge to take sides. Sometimes it can seem as though the older child is at an advantage, but if you side with the younger child he will not learn to stand up for himself. What’s more the older child may feel resentful. Instead of taking sides, recognise the anger that each child is feeling. Listen to each child’s point of view without judging. After each child has had a chance to speak, acknowledge the issue and tell the children you know that they can resolve it without fighting. Later, when the issue is resolved, praise both children.

If the disagreement escalates to the point of physical aggression, separate both children and give them time to calm down. Later on you can discuss the fight and ask both children to think of ways to resolve the situation should it arise again in the future. 

Separate Friends and Interests
If two people spend too much time together, they can begin to get on each other’s nerves. This is true for romantic partners, best friends and, of course, siblings. There is a great deal of truth to that old maxim which asserts that familiarity breeds contempt. Hence it is important for parents to encourage each child to make separate friends. Similarly each child should have his/her own unique hobbies and interests. When siblings spend time apart, they often miss each other’s company. They usually get along better as a result.

Ending Jealousy
It may seem that your children fight with each other because one of them is jealous of the other. If one of your kids appears to be jealous of the other, it could be a sign of some sort of inequality. Ask yourself if each child is receiving the same amount of affection and attention from both parents. If one child feels that they get less time from their mother or father, they may resent it. Similarly if a child feels like their sibling gets more hugs and kisses, they may feel that they are less lovable. The child may react by taking it out on his/her sibling.

It is very important not to have favourites. Make sure you spend some alone time with each child. If your daughter likes movies, take her to the cinema. If your son likes sports, take him to see a game. Try to recognise each child for his/her unique talents and abilities. Offer your support and encouragement.

Help Them Share
Many of the fights that happen between siblings are about territory or possessions. For example, one child might insist that the other leave his/her room immediately, or try to stop the other playing with a certain game. Unfortunately we cannot really force children to share, but there are lots of things that we can do to encourage it.

It is a good idea to leave the responsibility for sharing with your children. Let’s suppose you have one packet of crayons. Simply tell the children that you have one packet of crayons, and ask them what they think are the best ways of sharing it. Are they going to divide the crayons equally? Would it be better if they shared all the crayons so that both kids have access to the full range of colours? Let them decide on the best course of action.

You may find it advantageous to point out the benefits that sharing offers. For instance, let’s say you give each of the children a different treat If the children divided each treat equally, each would get the opportunity to sample both. The same principle applies to toys and games.

If you see your children share with each other, remember to offer praise and positive reinforcement. For instance, if an older sibling offers to let the younger child play his/her game; tell them that they have done a very kind thing and how proud you are of them. You may even wish to offer some kind of reward.

Bear in mind that children learn by example. Hence if you want your children to share and treat each other kindly, it is important that they see you doing the same thing. Offer to share your snacks and treats with your spouse and children. Allow the kids to use your belongings provided they are not dangerous to them.

Be Patient
Good parenting is not easy and there is no manual that can tell us exactly what to do. Managing sibling rivalries and conflicts is hard work, and it takes patience. Do not lose hope if you do not see positive results right away. Simply persist with what you are doing and your children’s behaviour towards each other will improve over time.