Sibling Rivalry

"It’s mine!" And Other Common Proclamations Among Siblings. Ideas For Inviting Cooperation Amongst your Brood.

It’s past six o’clock and you are finishing the final preparations for dinner, your spouse is stuck in traffic and the kids are exhausted from a long day at school and karate lessons. In the background, you can hear their voices slowly begin to escalate and you sense some conflict arising over a highly coveted toy. Sound familiar? It seems we have all been there.

The same little ones who can be ever so endearing can also lead you to feel completely exasperated with their bickering. Sibling rivalry spans from the early childhood years and well into the school-aged years and is a relatively normal part of family life. Various factors can influence the amount of fighting between siblings, including, child temperament, birth order, age of the children and times of family transition.

Siblings may be fighting as a way of getting more attention from parents, as a way of connecting with their brother or sister, to experience a sense of fairness/justice or as a way of combatting boredom. Whatever the reason(s) may be, here are some general guidelines that can act as lampposts along the windy road of parenthood.

As parents, our aim is to use discipline primarily to teach new skills and gain cooperation. It may be tempting to fall into the trap of using discipline primarily for punishment. However, in the long run, our hopes are most often connected to instilling particular values and morals into our children that they will take along with them on life’s journey. It is important to take your children’s rivalry seriously, primarily because you are in the position to help manage and contain conflict that could become harmful to them. As their parent, you have their backs and are their ‘big person’. It is so important to appear to have all the answers, even when you feel you may not. This is especially the case when they become emotionally undone. :)

Avoid the trap of favouring one child over the other. It is not necessary to play referee and determine who started it, but more critical to figure out what is behind your child’s actions: "What is my child trying to convey about his or her needs?" When you can see this, it can be much easier to connect with your child on an emotional level, before delving into problem-solving.

Secondly, conveying empathy to your children while they are at odds helps them become more skilled at showing genuine care and concern for each other. "Susie, it looks like you are frustrated because you didn’t get to have your turn." An empathic statement, and soft tone of voice can often defuse a tricky situation. When we model reflective listening, we help our children learn how their actions impact those around them. An added benefit is that your children will feel understood and cared for, which will lead to more receptivity when it is time to problem-solve and set limits.

Once they have calmed down, it is time to help them problem-solve their way through an issue. It is important to remember that this process only works well when both children are calm. If they are still emotionally escalated, it will be nearly impossible to access the thinking part of their brains and begin negotiating or creating some ground rules. It will be helpful to creatively approach the challenges they face and come up with win-win scenarios or invitations to respect each other. It is key to do this in a manner where you come alongside them, inviting their ideas and suggestions.

Lastly, it can be a wonderful buffer to engage the whole family in activities that are fun for everyone. An outing to the local swimming pool, a walk on the beach or a games night may be just the type of activity your children will enjoy. When they enjoy each other’s company in a shared activity, it can act as a lovely antidote to the fighting and may make it a faster turn-around when they do come across another hurtle.

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