“Hey, that’s mine!”
“Mom, she’s looking at me!”
“I had it first!”
“When is this baby going back where it came from?”
Do any of these declarations sound familiar?
Most parents rank sibling rivalry as the parenting issue that bothers them the most and the one that they feel the least able or prepared to manage and prevent.
Although extremely distressing at times, sibling rivalry becomes an inevitable part of life when the second child enters the family. “Dethronement,” as it is known, occurs when a young child, who is accustomed to being the one and only (and main focus of parental attention) is replaced by the mother’s affections and attention toward a new baby. How a child responds to his/her new sibling depends on many factors. Namely, the spacing between siblings, the older child’s temperament and how the parents respond to the older child’s needs and feelings.
In order to understand how to help your children get along, it first helps to have a clear understanding of why they fight in the first place. Most parents would say that their kids fight over everything! Over property (“I had that book first!”), over territory (“This is MY room!”), when they are bored, when they are trying to feel powerful and the list goes on.
Kids also fight for other less obvious reasons. Such as not being able to adequately express their feelings, when they are mad at themselves or someone else and use their sibling as an outlet, when they don’t know how to get attention from their sibling appropriately and as many of you can guess, the most common reason kids fight is for their parents attention.
Siblings have a natural competition. Often, they view their parents’ love as finite or limited and fight for what they feel belongs to them. Furthermore, they perceive their siblings as “getting more” and such feelings (while not always accurate) further fuel the feelings of jealousy and competition between them.
So how can parents move their children from conflict to camaraderie?
Here are 5 suggestions for decreasing sibling rivalry:
1.) Avoid comparing and labeling your children – when parents compare and label their children, they are setting the stage for anger and resentment between them. Instead, focus on each child as an individual, each with his/her own strengths.
2.) Establish proper rules for behavior and enforce standards of respect – no hitting, biting, pushing, slapping etc. No hurting other people’s bodies. Enlist your kids’ help in establishing these rules (so everyone is on board) and post them in a common area.
3.) Create an atmosphere of appreciation – every night at dinner, have an “appreciation feast,” where you talk about what you appreciate about each member of the family. Everyone takes a turn (help younger ones as needed).
4.) Acknowledge even the smallest of positive actions – notice out loud when your kids are choosing to take turns, choosing to stay calm or walk away instead of lashing out, helping each other, etc.
5.) Give each child individual attention through “special time” – special time is uninterrupted time spent with each child where the child receives 100% of the parent’s attention (no phone, no computer etc.). It is where the child leads the play and the parent follows the child’s lead. Given the fact that kids fight for their parents’ attention, having such “special time” meets this need and therefore greatly reduces the need to act out to get the attention they are seeking.
It’s important to keep in mind that it is impossible (and unrealistic) to eliminate fighting between siblings. Instead, begin to see value in the conflicts. More specifically, such disagreements present great opportunities for learning the valuable life skills of problem solving, cooperation and conflict resolution. These are challenging concepts for adults, let alone children, so what better time to start role modeling and teaching then now?
Peace begins at home.