How to Stop Sibling Rivalry
Q: My sons are 7 and 5. They argue and fight non-stop. The older one tries to “parent” the younger one. The younger one whines and gets dramatic about even the most innocent things that the oldest does. I’m at my wit’s end with them! Why can’t they just play nicely together?
A. Sibling rivalry is one of the most common parenting issues, so you aren’t alone. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to deal with. While it’s a problem faced by most parents with more than one child and it’s difficult to extinguish, here are ten measures you can take to lessen its appearance in your home.
- Take yourself out of the equation. Stop playing tie-breaker or score-keeper. If your children complain about each other, empathize with them. Dealing with difficult people is tough! Give them each tips for handling a situation in which the other person is behaving in a way they don’t like. They can ask the person to stop, offer a compromise if the situation calls for it, walk away if the other person isn’t being kind and refuse to play with them if the behavior continues. Let your children know that they have options when their brother is doing something they don’t like, but also let them know that you aren’t going to solve their squabbles for them.
- Try to spend some time alone with each child when you can. I’m not talking about a full-on mommy and me date, but just fifteen minutes can go a long way. Maybe the five year old gets time alone in the morning and the seven year old in the evening. Either way, give them some one-on-one time that they can count on.
- Let them move their big muscles. Exercise is important for growing bodies. Sometimes the under-use of muscles leaves energy in the body that has to come out somewhere. A lack of proper movement can leave a child cranky and cranky children easily lash out at those nearby.
- Create opportunities for team work. Supervise activities that require them to work together. Household chores are great for this! Show them that they can accomplish things together while you stay close by and give them the words they need when they hit a snag. If they have differing ideas about how to complete a project, help them to speak to each with the proper tone and appropriate words to foster cooperation.
- Stop trying to make everything fair. It’s impossible. And no matter how fair things are, someone will always feel slighted! (Don’t be purposely unfair–this just teaches your children that are you are mean and can’t be trusted.) But sometimes, for instance, one child will have an earlier bedtime than another because he or she needs more sleep. Sometimes one will get a bicycle because his was a hand-me-down and was worn beyond repair. Explain to your children why a seemingly unfair event occurred, but don’t feed the victim mentality that they might want to drag into the situation.
- Don’t compare your children. I shouldn’t have to say this, but some parents still do this. It’s hurtful and doesn’t motivate your children in the way that you want.
- Don’t force your children to play together. Playing side-by-side is fine sometimes. Always playing together is not necessary. If your children are requesting to play together but aren’t able to play nicely together, make them play separately for a time.
- Stop any bullying that occurs. While I don’t advocate playing referee, you must step in if your children become physically aggressive with each other. This means even the smallest shove must be met with consequences. The first time anyone lays a hand on anyone else, play-time is over–for both the offender and his victim. (This keeps both children from making false claims just to win an argument.) The same goes for name-calling.
- Are your children bored? While it’s not your job to play cruise ship director, boredom has a direct effect on sibling rivalry and it’s not a positive one! My oldest and youngest children have a definite need for stimulation and human interaction and would often begin to pick at each other when bored. Make sure your children have enough activities to keep their minds busy and they will not need to pick fights for the stimulation it provides.
- On the other hand, if one or both of your children are introverted, make sure that they are getting enough alone time each day. This has always been critical for my 10 year old. He is the most introverted person in our home and will become a grouch if he’s not given enough time alone in peace to think his thoughts and recharge. Be sensitive to the individual needs of your children and help them to find the appropriate words and actions when they need a break from interaction with each other.
If you need more information, check out Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber. This book helped me tremendously when my oldest and youngest went through their worst phase of sibling rivalry. I recommend it to everyone.
*Disclaimer: I am not currently practicing nor do I hold a current license in any field of therapy or counseling. Parenting Q & A is not to be considered as a substitute for professional advice. The Q & A blog series is for information and entertainment purposes only.
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