Managing sibling rivalry

Published by Baby Bunting on Sunday, January 27, 2019

If you have more than one child, you may have to face a hard truth: they will fight. It’s hard to share a parent’s love, especially for toddlers who have difficulties processing complex emotions such as jealously and anxiety.

Whether it be a simple sibling squabble over a toy, or more incessant bickering and name-calling, sibling rivalry can be tiresome to deal with. To manage it effectively you have to start by understanding its causes, and from there you can employ strategies that will help you diffuse the conflict.

What causes sibling rivalry

There are many reasons why siblings bicker, but if we drill into the core of the issue it often comes down to parental attention. Conflict often occurs because one sibling deems themselves inferior to the other when it comes to a parent’s love. They can feel overlooked, abandoned, or jealous which causes them to lash out.
Some other factors that exacerbate sibling rivalry include:
  • Position in the family – an older child may feel burdened with having to look after a young sibling or abandoned by their parents who spend more time caring for the younger. Conversely, a younger child may feel as if they’re in an older child’s shadow and have to constantly play catch-up.
  • Age – a five- and an eight-year-old can play some games together, however things change when they get older. At 10 and 13 they will have vastly different interests, which may leave one feeling left out.
  • External stressors – events that are happening outside the immediate family unit can sometimes exacerbate underlying tensions and bring things bubbling to the surface.

How to manage conflicts

Here are some do’s and don’ts to bear in mind when it comes to sibling squabbles:
  • Identify the cause of fighting – if it’s a simple matter of one child taking another toy from the other, then you can step in and come to an easy resolution.
  • Don’t make comparisons – each child is their own person. Never compare one to the other as this can lead to further resentment.
  • Don’t dismiss your child’s resentment or anger – anger and resentment are part of being human. Don’t demonise emotions, otherwise your children won’t have the tools to deal with anger when it arises. Tell them to acknowledge their feelings and explain that these will change.
  • Let your children know violence is unacceptable – any form of violence should result in punishment and a stern word. Always praise your children when they come to a peaceful resolution.
  • Whenever possible let your children solve their differences – you may have to occasionally step in when it comes to spats between younger children, or if violence is involved, but leaving children to their own devices will encourage better communication and relationships between the two. When it does come to mediation, don’t take sides – explain they are both equally in the wrong for not resolving things calmly.
  • Allow your older child to help care for the younger – letting an older child occasionally help change a diaper or feed the younger can actually create a stronger relationship between the two siblings.
  • Make sure each child, especially older ones, have their own space – by doing this you keep personal items away from shared ones and help the children feel like respected individuals.
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