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Sibling Rivalry in Children

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 29 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Sibling Rivalry sibling Conflict

Sibling rivalry is a concern for any parent of more than one child. Even if your children are usually the best of friends there will always be the risk that at times they will show jealousy of, begin to compete with or outright fight each other. Unfortunately these bouts of sibling rivalry will likely occur regardless of how hard you try to avoid them. Understanding sibling rivalry, taking steps to minimise it and working towards resolving sibling rivalry should help keep the peace in your household, but beware that sibling rivalry could still strike at any time so try to be ready to deal with it when it does.

Causes of Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry can be long-standing and consistent, or it can rear its head only during certain times, activities or events. Very often the competition and fighting that defines sibling rivalry will occur when:
  • Children feel threatened, such as when a new sibling is brought home.
  • Children attempt to assert their own independence and identity.
  • Children seek attention from their parents or other siblings.
  • Children become bored and fighting gives them something to do.
  • Children are hungry or tired and more susceptible to minor irritations.
  • Children bear grudges that magnify new irritations or conflicts.
  • Children have not yet developed to the point that they can “see” the world from someone else’s viewpoint. Until this stage, children will perceive slights against them that may not actually have occurred.
Avoiding Sibling Rivalry
Though it may not always seem like it, there are steps that parents can take to avoid frequent bouts of sibling rivalry. Parents can:
  • Give each child special time to have their undivided attention.
  • Frequently show love and affection, with hugs and kisses, to each child.
  • Avoid comparing the children’s abilities, development or preferences.
  • Avoid labelling the children, such as “the smart one” or “the angry one.”
  • Encourage the children to develop their own distinct hobbies.
  • Set out tasks that will encourage the children to cooperate, not compete.
  • Allow each child time and space to be on their own when they need it.
  • Plan family activities that are fun and supportive for everyone.
Resolving Sibling Rivalry and Conflicts
Even with all of the steps that parents can take to avoid sibling rivalry, conflicts are still bound to occur. When they do, there are several ways that parents can help resolve them in a timely manner. For example, parents can:
  • Discuss conflicts (in general, not between siblings specifically) with all of the children when everyone is calm.
  • Discuss general conflict resolution strategies when everyone is calm.
  • Explain the household rules clearly and so that every child understands.
  • Lead through example of how to avoid, and resolve, conflicts.
  • Encourage manners and courtesy among the entire family.
  • Teach children about compromising and how to do it when adults aren’t around.
  • Help children recognise and discuss their emotions so that they can verbalise, rather than act on them.
  • When conflict does occur, do not inquire as to which child started it. Hold each child responsible for breaking the rules.
Sibling rivalry is unpleasant for most parents to witness, and indeed for most children to engage in. Unfortunately, this does not stop it from occurring in most households where there is more than one child. Rather than hope that it will resolve itself, parents should tackle sibling rivalry head on by learning the causes, taking steps to avoid it and learning how to resolve it when it does occur. A happier, healthier household will be the family’s reward.

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