How to defuse sibling rivalry in pre-teens

Do
your children constantly bicker and compete with each other, even when it comes
to even the most mundane things? Sibling rivalry, though part of normal family
dynamics, can cause unnecessary discord if the bickering is constant or becomes
physical. While it would be unreasonable to expect kids to get along with each
other all of the time, functioning as a family is far less stressful if they
get on most of the time or, at the very least, learn how to tolerate each
other.

For
children to be the best of friends one moment and at each other’s throats the
next is not uncommon and is part of the ebb and flow of family life. However,
sibling rivalry caused by jealousy or competition can be a constant battle of
wills and egos, which may need to be addressed before it gets out of hand and becomes
ingrained.

The
roots of such conflict often stem back to even before the second child is born.
A first child, used to the almost unfettered attention of their parents, is
often deeply resentful of the new baby. This conflict, though often tempered
over time, can continue as the children develop and compete for everything from
possessions to parental affections.

As
upsetting as it can be to be in the middle of it, especially if such encounters
start to escalate from verbal sparring to pushing and shoving, parents are
often reluctant to get involved above telling the antagonists to stop. Caught
unawares while such rivalries bubble up to the surface, some parents act impulsively
to quell the situation and end up taking sides. Shouting at them isn’t the
answer either, as your reaction may worsen the issue. Ignoring the fracas is
equally inexcusable.

Mothers
and fathers can ease sibling rivalry by giving children the responsibility of
resolving issues peacefully. Lead by example in how you interact with others in
front of them.

What parents can do

Mothers
and fathers can ease sibling rivalry in leading by example. Avoid having heated
open-ended arguments in front of your children. Encourage children to respect
each other’s personal space and belongings by explaining that, while it is
desirable to share, they are allowed to keep certain things out of bounds, like
their bedrooms, computer equipment and clothing.

Using
time-outs should be done sparingly and need not mean banishing children to
their rooms. Giving them time apart can defuse the situation and allow them to
calm down. Sometimes a change of pace, or scene, is all that is needed to put
siblings in a better mood.

Avoid
comparing one child with the other. Simmering jealousies can be caused by
parents playing one child off the other. Using one sibling as a yardstick to
measure the other only leaves children feeling inadequate, misunderstood and
resentful.

Complex
individuals regardless of their age, parents should try identifying the source
of the issue and breaking it down into meeting the needs of both children.
While the personalities of each child play a part in how they communicate with
their siblings, their developmental age also counts.

Young
children are notoriously bad at sharing: their toys, their parent’s time or
anything else they think is theirs.

Since
some youngsters are too young to adequately verbalise their frustration that
their territory/possessions has been encroached, pre-teens are most likely to
lash out by pushing or biting their brother/sister rather than arguing their
point. Regardless of their age, young children can be taught by example to
share and that sharing can be pleasurable. Positively reinforce your approval
of good behaviour in ways that encourage them to enjoy parental approval
together. Get them to decide when to engage in a shared activity that they both
like and thank them for having worked it out nicely.

School-aged
siblings, though old enough to be familiar with the concept of fairness, might
resent and not understand why younger siblings are treated differently. One
common point of resentment is having to help around the house when their
younger siblings are not. Redress the balance by teaching younger siblings to
at least pick up after themselves by putting toys and books away, even if it is
into a play bin for you to sort out later. Remind school-age children that as they
are older they not only have privileges, like staying up a little later, they
also have some responsibilities. Remind them of all the fun things they are
able to do that their younger sibling cannot, such as earn pocket money and
choose their outfits.

Differing temperaments

Some
children are born extroverts while others are more retiring. A child who is
more clingy or very outgoing may demand more of a parent’s time than one who is
quite shy. This state of affairs may lead to resentment in the quieter child
and lead to the introvert sibling acting out. Regardless of how many children
you have and how close in ages they are, make sure that you find time to spend
time with them one-to-one. Finding quality time to be with each child, by
taking part in shared activities they particularly enjoy, will help them feel
valued and could diffuse situations where sibling rivalry would normally flare
up.

While
no one strategy can stop sibling rivalry permanently, employing all or some of
the strategies mentioned will probably help reduce the intensity of such
conflict over time.

Features Story

Sibling rivalry can stress out the entire family.
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