Sibling Rivalry

May 4, 2008 – 7:35 pm

Oh no they’re at it again’ is a familiar cry in many households as parents face the unpalatable fact that brothers and sisters do not love (or even like) each other all of the time. It is important to accept that sibling rivalry is natural and normal and that you are not the only household with squabbling children, in fact this is the first step to dealing with the problem.

Attention seeking

The next step, hard though it may be, is to let them sort it out for themselves. A lot of the fighting that goes on between siblings is a subconscious ploy to get attention from parents. Your attitude to the scraps is important and if you don’t respond it will lose much of its appeal.

Be firm and clear

Avoid the temptation to act as referee (bearing in mind that most of the issues will be irrational with no clear cut innocent and guilty party). So, rather than intervening with a ‘Who started this?’ or ‘Give him that toy back’ just be firm and clear ‘No hitting or punching’ or make a light-hearted remark to diffuse the tension. Of course, if things become violent you need to intervene by calmly separating the children and sending them to different rooms until they have calmed down.

Injustice sparks upsets

Much of the bad feeling between siblings is due to jealousy, particularly when they feel that one is treated differently to the other. Children have a strong sense of fair play and any injustice is felt keenly. However, it is not possible to treat all children the same because each child is different with his or her own needs and this has to be learned and accepted within the family.

A seven year old and an eleven year old should go to bed at different times, even if the younger child feels this is unfair. An older child can be given more responsibility for helping around the house which may brings howls of protest because a younger sibling ‘gets away with it’.

When to be the peace-maker

Discussing how to get on with each other is best attempted when children are getting on, rather than when they are nursing recently earned grudges and resentments. A younger child can be encouraged to recognise their part in a fight if they can identify what they do to deliberately wind up or annoy a bigger, stronger brother or sister. The older child can be shown how they inevitably ‘fall for it’ or react to deliberate baits and should be encouraged to ‘rise above it’ or not give the younger one the reaction they expect. Sometimes it is vice versa.

Do remember that your reaction to this family in-fighting is crucial to achieving harmony in your house. Stay calm, be reasonable and try not to over-react. Not easy, we know, when you have had a hard day yourself.

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