‘Real Talk’ with Susan Stone Belton

Sibling rivalry is defined as “competitive feelings that children in a family feel toward each other”. It is a normal and expected part of family life. It is also very annoying to parents who have to listen to arguing, whining and complaining, and who wonder every day what to do when their children are fighting.

Our children are going to be in each others lives forever. From a young age, they must build their own relationship with each other. We cannot force them to get along or force them to play together. What we can do is teach them to be polite, kind, and fair to each other until they are old enough to get along.

Some helpful tips:

Do not take sides: kids love to get each other in trouble, and love to get attention from their parents. Do not reward children with your attention for arguing with each other, and do not blame one child more than the other.

Treat each child as an individual, and do not compare them to their siblings.

Respect each child’s need to sometimes play by themselves. It’s okay for a child to request some time alone; in fact, it’s a skill to be able to play alone.

Allow your children to have a few things that they do not need to share with their siblings or with friends. When a friend comes over to play, tell your child, “You may choose two toys that you do not have to share. We will put those toys on a high shelf, but then you must share all your other toys.”

Try to spend some time alone with each child every day. Children compete with each other for our time, and so they need to know they will receive our time and attention without the need to fight for it.

Whenever possible, allow your kids to work out their own differences. Teach them to negotiate and to bargain. Helpful things for you to say:
“Do you want me to help you work this out or can you do it yourselves?”
“I trust that you can work this out, but you both need to stop yelling at each other.”
“You have 5 minutes to agree on a TV show. If you cannot agree in that time, then neither of you will watch any show.”
“One of you can cut the brownie in half. The other one can choose their piece first.”

Do step in if there is an unfair power balance between your children or if one child is truly upset. Parents must teach their own values about hitting and yelling to their children. Then set family rules and follow through. A time-out for BOTH children is an appropriate consequence arguing and fighting. And the parent taking a time-out (as long as the children are safe if left alone) is also an effective tool.

It is especially important not to intervene in your tweens and teens arguments. They are responsible for working things out between themselves. But it is also important to have a “No hitting” rule at this age. Your teens would (hopefully) not think about hitting another person, but they might still push a sibling. Teens are old enough to control their actions towards a sibling, and should be expected to do so.

It is also at this age that siblings start to become friends. Your teens and older kids might spend more time alone, or go places together, and without constant parental presence, they can stop feeling so competitive with each other. When your oldest child begins to drive, and is allowed to transport a younger sibling, they will want to spend time together…in the car.

And a every age, remember: this too shall pass.


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