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6 steps to end Sibling Rivalry

Why can’t they just get along?!?

Why can’t they just get along?!?

No matter how nicely your children are playing one minute, the next minute might bring tears, name-calling and even fights.

If you have more than one child, it’s a guarantee that sibling rivalry will happen. Even though sibling fighting is a common occurrence in families, it can be difficult to manage if parents don’t have the right tools.

There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your children playing nicely together, and with the right tools, you can manage those sibling feuds.

Why Does Sibling Rivalry Occur?

Your oldest child was once the sole focus of your attention. His requests were answered with haste and he didn’t have to share his time or toys with anyone.

Then, his sister came along, a stranger to him. Now mommy is slower to pour his milk because she’s feeding baby, and he has to wait for daddy to finish changing baby’s nappy before they can play with Legos together.

As the baby gets older, they vie for the same toys and as younger sister becomes more independent, she gets tired of being bossed around by big brother.

To put it another way, how would you feel if your spouse brought home someone else and expected the two of you to get along?

Because young children aren’t able to express these frustrations verbally, they do so by misbehaving and refusing to share, hitting, pushing, yelling, etc.

How Can I Stop Sibling Rivalry from Happening?

While you can’t stop sibling rivalry entirely, you can reduce its frequency. This means less squabbles and more peace in your home!

Here are 6 steps you can take today to reduce overall competition between your children and prevent future sibling rivalry episodes.

1. Lose the Labels

We live in a society that thrives on categorising people. We want to know who’s smart, who’s popular, who’s successful, who’s athletic, who’s musical, who’s talented, etc. Labels help us categorise things.

When it comes to our children, labels (intentional or unintentional) dramatically increase the competition between siblings.

Think about it, when we talk about our “athletic one,” “the good eater,” “smartie,” or even our “wild child,” we inadvertently draw comparisons between our children.

When we refer to one child as the “athletic one” the other child automatically thinks “I’m not the athletic one” (so why even try) or when one child is a “good eater” the other assumes she must not be.

If dad refers to you as the “smart one,” I can only assume I’m (a lot) “less than smart.”

If I wear the “wild child” crown, you can feel very superior as the “well behaved” or the “easy going” child.

By labelling our children, we unintentionally shelve children into one role or another. This creates comparisons between siblings.

The good news is, when we stop using labels, we give our “not-so-athletic” child a chance to shine even if she’s not a star. We give the straight-B student the opportunity to be proud of her hard work and we give the “wild child” a chance to do the right thing.

The key is to cheer on positive attributes, such as teamwork, persistence, and kindness. Siblings can then root for each other instead of competing for their parents’ approval.

2. Arrange for Attention

One of the key reasons children fight is to gain parents attention. Even negative attention is better than nothing.

To satisfy your child’s need for attention, plan on giving each child at least 10-15 minutes of child centred, intentional attention every day.

Your child is in control of the 10 minutes. They decide what you will be doing.

A tea party?

Lego building?

Dressing up daddy?

Pavement drawing with chalk?

Listening to their favourite music with your teen?

Whatever the child chooses, you oblige. (As long as it’s an activity that can reasonably be accomplished in 10-20 minutes.)

No distractions. Put down your phone, don’t answer that email, turn off the TV.

Your child is the centre of your universe for these 10 minutes and it’s critical you are fully present for your time with her.

Lastly, be sure to label the quality time and when it’s finished, say, “I really enjoyed our special time today! I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!”

Your child will benefit from knowing you’re committed to your time, plus you’ll get credit in his mind for time well spent.

By giving each child this special time, you will increase feelings of emotional connection and proactively fill her attention bucket with POSITIVE attention so she doesn’t have to resort to fighting with her sister to get your (negative) attention.

3. Prepare for Peace

When sibling fights occur, many parents use time-out as a way to diffuse the situation. While sending children to separate corners might give them an opportunity to calm down, time spent in the corner will not teach the child how to resolve conflict.

To teach children conflict resolution skills you can use role-playing once the dust has settled and everyone has calmed down. Here are just a few scenarios you can role play to help build those conflict resolution skills:

Taking turns: Give children the words to use “May I please play with…” and also give them language for responding “I’m not quite finished playing with it, but I’ll let you know when I’m finished.” For early years use a visual 2 – 5 min timer. Large sand timers work well.

Using “I feel” statements: Its important children know it’s OK to have big feelings, but there are appropriate ways to express them. Teach them the language to use when they are frustrated “I feel mad when Sam doesn’t let me play with the car” or “I feel hurt when Alison hits me…”

Controlling their temper: Children aren’t always ready to discuss their feelings immediately after a fight, so teach them coping skills to diffuse the situation until they are ready to talk like walk away, count to 10, take deep breaths, etc.

By giving your children the tools and strategies to resolve conflict on their own, you’ll notice a drastic decrease of sibling arguments in your home.

4. Stay out of Squabbles

This one might surprise you, but do you know the best thing you can do when a disagreement starts to brew? Ignore it. That’s right, go find something else to do in another room. Don’t give the squabble any attention.

By ignoring the tussle, you don’t reward negative behaviour with your attention and most importantly, you give them a chance to work it out on their own.

If the fight escalates into a physical throwdown or you REALLY feel like intervening is necessary, you can use the next two steps to guide your interactions when you do get involved.

5. Calm the Conflict

If your children clearly can’t reach an agreement, or if the fight escalates, you might have to step in. Whatever you do, don’t take sides. You might think you heard or saw what started the argument, but don’t place any judgment on either party.

Instead, once everyone is calm, listen to each child’s version of what happened and encourage them to use “I feel” statements as they tell their story.

Then, without placing blame or taking sides, ask them to come up with some solutions together. If no one is able to come up with a workable resolution, suggest a few yourself, and help them reach an agreement.

Whatever you do don't take sides

6. Put them all in the same boat.

If, after hearing both sides and attempting to find a solution, your children still can’t agree, it’s time to put them “all in the same boat.” That means everyone involved in the argument experiences the same outcome or consequence.

An “All in the Same Boat” statement would sound like this: “Either you can take turns with the game, or I will put it away for the rest of the day.” Then follow through.

There will likely be some complaining and negotiating at first, but your children will quickly realise it’s in THEIR best interest to agree on a solution together before you “put them in the same boat.”

Final Thoughts

Be patient with your children as they’re learning these new strategies.

Remember that conflict resolution is a very advanced skill set. (You probably know adults who still struggle in this area!) But rest assured, with these strategies in place, you’ll be able to keep sibling rivalry and fighting to a minimum.

And, don’t be surprised if other issues pop-up after sibling rivalry is under control. The truth is…children are constantly looking for ways to get your attention and assert their power, so you might notice mealtime drama, tantrums, backtalk and homework battles flare up even while the siblings are living in (mostly) harmony.


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