Positive Ways to Ease Sibling Rivalry

Published on: May 12, 2021

Johanna presents tips to ease the tension when there are two or more kids in the family.

By Johanna de Konig

As parents, we dream of having a harmonious family, but it’s not easy when our children don’t get along with each other. Kids don’t get to choose if they want a sibling or not. It’s simply a fact that they have to live with their siblings, and this can be a breeding ground for conflict.

We often see that siblings love each other, but they also have the most conflicts with their loved ones. Rivalry creates a lot of negative energy, but as a parent, it is not your responsibility to create a house with no conflict. Though it can be unpleasant, the best place for children to experience conflict is the place where they feel secure, loved, and that they belong – at home. This provides a great opportunity to take risks, learn problem-solving skills, realize what they do or don’t like, understand the boundaries between ‘me’ and ‘others’, and how to express their feelings.

As a parent, it’s important to see the overall picture. What could be causing the friction? Is our home a safe and harmonious place in general, or are we as parents battling with stress or unresolved issues? This will reflect in the atmosphere and how children react towards each other.

Ways to deal with fighting kids

A) Model how to deal with each other positively

Teach your children how to say what they need. Help them to listen to each other. Let them know that it’s possible to solve a fight without hurting or insulting each other. It’s good to give your child boundaries for dealing with a sibling (no name-calling, no hitting, no biting, no throwing toys, or damaging things that belong to the other person).

There are 3 steps for this.

  1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings: “You wanted your brother to stop, and that’s why you hit him.”
  2. Set a boundary: “You’re allowed to say you’re angry, but you’re not allowed to hit as this is hurting someone.”
  3. Teach your child a different way of reacting: “Next time, tell your brother to stop because you do not like it.”

By teaching children this process at a young age, they will get better at solving conflicts as they get older.

B) Let them solve their own fights (as much as possible)

If you intervene too much, your children will not learn how to solve their conflicts. Kids have to practise this skill, and home is the best place to do this. Trying to solve their issues for them could even strengthen rivalry as you could be perceived as taking sides. Children under the age of eight do need assistance to solve a problem as they have a hard time empathising, and they may lack the social skills needed to interact with others.

C) Assist in solving the fight when siblings get stuck

While we want to intervene as little as possible, when things get physical, it’s wise to step in. Try not to solve their issue but do support them in finding a solution. Intervention, in this case, might look like this: 

  1. Give them a turn to say what happened. Listen to and acknowledge the feelings and needs of each child.
  2. Ask the children if they have an idea for solving the problem: “What is needed for you to continue the game?”
  3. Let them know you trust them to find a solution, and when they come up with something, check if both children feel okay with it.

If emotions are too high, you can give them time to go to their own space. Only take this measure when needed as it is much better if they can solve their problem immediately.

D) Focus on a solution and not on who is guilty

Trying to figure out what happened often results in more bickering. Often, a fight is not caused by one child, but by many little things. Children naturally think you are on the other’s side, and telling them you aren’t doesn’t usually convince them! It’s better to mention the needs or wants of each child. Kids then start to realize it’s okay to have different needs. Focus on the solution and the behavior you would like to see: “I see that Lauren wants to play by herself for some time. Shall we give her some time alone? Then you can do what you like, and Lauren can be alone with her toys.” This way, children learn to respect each other’s needs.

E) Never compare siblings with each other

We sometimes unknowingly make remarks like: “Why won’t you brush your teeth? Your sister never had difficulties with it.” This is us trying to motivate our children to have the right behavior, but it often results in more sibling rivalry. A child takes this as ‘the other is better or more loved than me.’ 

F) Love each child in their own way

Each child wants to be special to their parents. Tell your child you love them because of their special characteristics, and you love their sibling because of their good qualities. Remarks that we love all of our children the same are often not enough, but to be loved for who they are makes a child aware of themselves and makes them feel loved for who they are. This assurance often reduces jealousy among siblings. It’s also good to spend individual time with each child, so your child feels seen and heard.

G) Create a friendly home and express your admiration for each other

As a parent, it’s important to see the overall picture. Is our home a safe and harmonious place in general? How do we as parents deal with others and resolve our conflicts? This will reflect in the atmosphere and how children react towards each other.  You can create a positive atmosphere by creating positive moments within the family. Say what each member of the family finds positive about another, and show your appreciation of them. A conversation over dinner might look like this: “I like that Mama cooked this meal.” “It was so nice that you let me use your pencils today.” Also, compliment your children when they play well together. Let them know you have noticed when they have solved their fights in a positive way.

Finally, but very importantly, in raising your children and dealing with difficult situations — take care of yourself. When you feel okay about yourself and feel rested, you are more able to deal with your children and their issues.                                                                                                                                       

Resources

What are the most common causes of sibling conflict?
https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/all-parents/family-life/sibling-rivalry/what-are-most-common-causes-sibling-conflict

Sibling rivalry: Helping your children get along
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/sibling-rivalry/art-20046568 Photos from Unsplash

About the Author

Johanna is a counselor with over 30 years of experience in counseling and therapy. A family therapist and Sand-tray and Clay Therapist, she has helped adults and children with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and bipolarity. She worked for 4 years as a Mental Health Trainer and Supervisor in a Thai refugee camp, and she is currently Clinical Supervisor at New Counseling Service (NCS), Bangkok. She speaks Dutch and English, as well as Thai.


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