Sibling Rivalry

If you had a sibling, you'll remember what sibling rivalry was like when you were younger. Now, as a parent, you see sibling rivalry differently, but certainly you wish your children would get along and be friends who supported each other. And you can't help thinking about how your friend's kids seem to get along so much better than your own. It happens everywhere. It can flare up at a friend's house, on the baseball field, in the park and there is even a fair amount of sibling rivalry in school.

Well, help is on the way. A few things will be discussed, including the triggers of sibling rivalry and tips on how to overcome sibling conflict.

Causes of Sibling Rivalries
Sibling rivalry has triggers. We're talking about Newton's third law; Daniel pushes Julia so Julia pushes back. Here are a few of those triggers:

  1. Certain emotional states: Sometimes, sibling rivalry stems from such simple reasons as hunger, fatigue or boredom.
    Paying attention to your child will put you in the practice of knowing his moods; this will allow you to identify whether some of the above emotional states are causing sibling conflict. Also remember that feeling hungry, tired or bored do negatively impact a child, and can make him feel extreme irritation that only subsides by lashing out. Being aware of your child's physical and emotional needs will help prevent negative emotional states.

  2. A feeling of intrusion: Being bossed around or dealing with a bragging sibling will make a child feel like their bossy or bragging sibling is infringing on their rights of space and autonomy. Remember that this is a trigger and not an excuse. Never side with one child, even if they were just reacting to their sibling.
    Instead, mediate the episode of sibling rivalry; once emotions have cooled down, speak to your children about bragging or being bossy. Explain to them how it makes other people feel when they are told what to do; tell your children they should respect their peer's sense of autonomy or freedom.

  3. Egocentric point of view: As a preschooler, your child adheres to an egocentric view of their environment, as defined by Piaget. This doesn't mean that your child is selfish. Rather, it means that your child is unable to take the perspective of someone else. They have not yet attained 'theory of mind,' or the ability to suppose that other people have feelings that are different from their own. For example, if grandma is sad, the child might give grandma his favorite stuffed animal, 'froggy'; this is because the 'froggy' would make your child feel better if he were sad, therefore he thinks 'froggy' will make grandma happy, too.
    Knowing that you child is egocentric will help you realize a lesson needs to be rendered, just as soon as you feel your child can understand what it means to have different perspectives.

  4. Competition: Studies have found that when individuals feel like they're competing for scarce resources, things get ugly. This is particularly true of sibling rivalry where children compete for love, attention, time and approval. Most kids perceive these important qualities as limited. For example, an older child who used to be lavished with 100% of your attention may take it hard when a new child comes into the picture. Not only is your time and attention cut in half, you're actually focusing more on the new bundle of joy than you are on your older child.
    What should you do? Reassure your child that he matters very much to you, even though you'll need to spend time taking care of your needier, younger infant. Also, slowly introduce the idea that your child is entering a new role, a very important role. Tell your child that you'd like him to be Mommy's special helper; that he can help take care of the new baby by giving it love and helping you with diapers and feedings.

  5. Close proximity in age: If you have children who are close together in age, it could fuel sibling rivalry. This is because you'll have to give the children each the same kind of attention. This makes it easier for them to compare the care you give each, and find subtle differences.
    If you plan your pregnancies, then try planning to have a few years between children.

Remember, an important note about triggers is that it does not excuse children for their reactions, whether they react verbally, physically or emotionally.

Tips on Preventing Sibling Rivalry
Prevention is always the best medicine. Stop sibling rivalry before it even occurs, because it's a lot easier than breaking a habit once it's begun. A recent study showed that family function plays a significant role in whether sibling rivalry occurs, and how severe this rivalry is.

In particular, sibling rivalry is less likely to occur if:

  • parents model a respectful and productive approach to solving every day problems and disputes
  • family members engage in activities that call for family cooperation
  • the family creates an environment wherein verbal and physical aggression is inappropriate

The study proved that family dynamics greatly impact a child's own actions. This is because children automatically assume that what they witness during their formative years is the way of the Universe; if they see verbal aggression between parents, they assume that everyone verbally abuses others. The 'formative years' are usually considered to span from birth to five years of age; however, changing negative family patterns at any age will help get kids on the right track.

Further Tips on Preventing Sibling Conflict
Ensuring a warm and loving family environment is the best prevention. That begins in how you and your partner treat each other. But it also means you have to treat each of your children with a little TLC. These tips deal with how you treat your children.

  1. Spending special time with each child: This is a simple, yet highly effective technique. Set aside a few hours each week to spend time with each child. Do activities that the two of you enjoy, and that are unique to your special relationship.

  2. Watch for favoritism: Everyone wants to love each of their children equally, but it's just not always the case. Sometimes, you may favor one child's temperament subconsciously. Children are very perceptive when it comes to emotional matters.

  3. Never compare your kids: Never give in to the urge to point out to one child how clean their sibling's bedroom is. Part of being an individual is being different from others. Comparing your child to someone else will hurt them and make them want to become someone they're not, which never works well. You should celebrate each child's differences to help them come into their own. This is the foundation of good parenting.

  4. Focusing on each child's needs: It's impossible to treat each child equally. Therefore, when one child complains about the kind of attentions you give to their sibling, explain that the sibling needs those attentions. Remind your child of their particular needs that you meet.

  5. Help protect each child's personal space: Sometimes you may not want to get involved, but never allow one child to ruin the other child's personal space or work.

  6. Keep it real. If you find that most of your kids' sibling rivalry stems from possessiveness, then it's time to reassess the situation. Maybe your kids have succumbed to the pressures of this materialistic society. Often, kids use possessions to make up for a lack of self-esteem; they hide behind materialism, hoping to complete themselves with the promises of advertising.
Tips on Dealing with Sibling Rivalry
Too late for prevention; has sibling rivalry already occurred? Here are some ideas on how to successfully manage your children's conflicts.
  1. Don't interfere. Some parents choose not to interfere in their child's squabbles. This is an effective strategy if you feel like your children fight with each other to compete for your attention. If there's any physical aggression or things get too tough, then step in.

  2. Mediate. Remember that you don't want to stand up for one child. While one child was probably provoked, chances are they took the bait. Rather, give your kids time to cool off. Once their emotions are more stable, ask them to come back with some ideas on how to prevent these fights. Mediate between them and help them understand each other's emotions.

  3. Patching things up. After a fight, it's a good idea to plan some fun family activities. The key is to not make this about competition. Instead, have kids view 'winning' as 'everyone cooperating to accomplish a similar goal'! Things means that the kids group together and bond in the face of challenge.

Remember, these tips aren't just about sibling rivalries, they're about great parenting! We wish you luck in your quest to end sibling rivalry!