How to defuse sibling rivalry

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 others 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

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

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

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.