Coping Effectively with Sibling Rivalry

Parents in multiple child households are frequently tasked with maintaining harmony among siblings who often tease and argue and are competitive for resources and attention. Parents are often exhausted by this challenge and often wonder why their children cannot simply get along. They seek to promote a warm and loving relationship that will last a lifetime in spite of siblings often being at odds with one another. Parents often feel angry, out of control, and disappointed. They fear their children being injured in conflict, or even possible emotionally damaged. They feel concern about the type of adults their children may become.

Sibling rivalry can take many forms, including name calling, blaming, stealing from one another, lying, arguing and tattling on one another. Some children may even resort to breaking things belonging to siblings, hitting, or throwing things. The good news is here are ways for parents to successfully break the cycle of children tormenting one another. Fighting seems an unnecessary waste of energy and behavior that is very trying for parents who often feel pressure to do everything they can to resolve it.

Parents should be aware of what are often the causes of sibling rivalry. These can include:

  • Seeking parental attention
  • Gaining a sense of power
  • Alleviating boredom
  • Having physical contact
  • Seeking to be the favorite by diminishing their sibling(s) in the parent’s eyes.

Once parents understand why children act out in these ways, they can help them find a more appropriate means of achieving these goals. Realize too that children do learn important life skills through these behaviors, including:

  • How to deal with power struggles
  • How to resolve differences and manage conflicts
  • How to stand up for themselves and be assertive
  • How to negotiate and compromise

Parents often have only positive expectations and outcomes in mind for their children. They strive for their children to achieve the following very reasonable goals:

  • Be loving to one another
  • Not fight with one another
  • Show fairness to each other
  • Play nicely and share with one another
  • Don’t take pleasure in hurting one another
  • Work together to resolve conflict and be kind
  • Try not to annoy their parents
  • Try not to do physical harm to one another

When parents are disappointed that reality does not match what they desire for their children, it may be necessary for them to give up the idealized image that comes with having more than one child. When parents accept that children will have unpleasant rivalries, they can then stop feeling as though they’ve done something wrong, or their children are somehow bad. It then puts the parents in a better position for dealing with the rivalry.

Keep in mind that a certain amount of sibling rivalry is inevitable. Again, it is not because you’re a bad parent or there’s anything wrong with your children. Recognize that children do gain some benefit from the rivalry.

There are many factors that can influence sibling rivalry, including birth order, how far apart children are spaced, temperament differences, parenting approaches, gender, transitional times, and ages of the children.

Lastly, remember sibling rivalry is normal, every child is a unique individual, and sometimes need trumps fairness. When basic rules and values are established and parental behavior remains consistent, parents can make headway in managing sibling rivalry in the short term and helping their children to grow up to have loving and successful relationships with sibling in the long term.

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