Sibling rivalry is defined as the jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers and sisters. It is a concern for almost all parents of two or more kids. Sibling rivalry can be very frustrating and stressful to parents.
Yes. Frustrating indeed. As the mother of two children, I am well versed in the daily flow of transactions between sisters. In low tide, there may be the sharing of clothes or engaging in cooperative games. In high tide, I feel like the captain of a ship trying to navigate through rough waters while maintaining morale of my crew. There are the waves of “You always take her side!”, or, “It’s all her fault!” that rock the boat and threaten the peace.
To be sure, there are multiple factors that create this competitive dynamic. Of course, differing personalities and temperaments do not help. It is not uncommon for one child to be introverted while her sibling is an extrovert. In addition, gender and birth order contribute to conflict. When children are at different ages and stages of development, their needs are not the same. Likewise, children are awarded different privileges and responsibilities depending on age and maturity. Given these facts, it’s no wonder that that my children frequently compare themselves to each other and conclude that my parenting is not fair.
As a parent, I know that it is not realistic to think that each child can receive the same amount of attention and resources at the same rate. In fact, it would be senseless for me to attempt to meet my children’s needs in the same way and to the same degree. So how can parents maintain the peace in the face of sibling rivalry?
Avoid comparisons between children. Siblings are constantly evaluating themselves against each other. For parents to weigh in on this only contributes to the issue.
Enforce fair fighting rules. Enforcing rules like “no name calling” and no “destroying other’s belongings” can encourage civil negotiations.
Let siblings work out their differences. By taking a step back and allowing children to negotiate their own solutions, we can empower our children to successfully solve their problems.
Separate when necessary. Sibling conflicts can be emotionally charged at times. Teaching children when it is best to have a “cooling off period” or “time out” from a discussion prepares them for future disagreements among peers.
Intervene when necessary. When conflict becomes physical or the issue at hand is requires parental understanding, parents should intervene to help siblings reach a compromise.
Sibling rivalry is a normal dynamic for homes with more than one child. When a child is fortunate enough to have a brother or sister, they have countless opportunities to learn how to negotiate, share, and communicate in many different situations. Siblings teach us patience and give us a sense of shared responsibility. And, in some cases, someone to blame when something breaks.
Shelley Coleman M.A., L.P.C.-S.
Shelley Coleman is a Licensed Professional Counselor, parent, and Ironman finisher. She is in private practice in Lakeway where she provides play therapy, child and adolescent counseling, family therapy, group therapy, and parent education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org