Handling Sibling Rivalry

Parents and caregivers of more than one child know the struggle of your children fighting over the same toy, pushing each other’s buttons or name calling. Sometimes the fights/arguments come to an end on their own without too much fall out. But, how do we as parents handle sibling rivalry with out seeming like there’s a favorite or allowing a MMA brawl to happen in the living room? Well, here are some tips to help out: understanding your children’s needs, managing their negative behavior and helping your children to get along.


Why are my kids fighting?

One of the biggest reasons is change; change can bring about anxiety and uncertainty and kids don’t often know how to deal with let alone express to others that they are feeling anxious. One of the classic changes for a child is getting a new sibling. Sometimes, no matter how much you try to prepare your oldest they don’t accept the change well. One day they’re able to do what they want: talk, sing, yell, bang toys as loud as they want and their parents are available to them when they ask. The next, their parents are pre-occupied by a smelly and noisy baby and their parents are telling them to be quiet because the baby is sleeping. To the oldest, it’s not fair that the baby is taking away their parents attention and taking away their fun.


Being a sibling of a child with special needs (developmental delay, mental health, or a medical concern) may also be a struggle for some siblings. They may feel that their sibling is getting more attention then them and not really have an understanding of the underlying need that requires extra support.


 A child’s temperament may also come into play, if siblings are on different wavelengths as far as personality goes, they might not get along very well. Think about a time that your just wanted to read a book, watch TV or do something on your own and there someone there who would not stop talking who kept interrupting or asking questions. Yeah, I bet you can and I also bet that you can remember how infuriating it can get.


When to intervene?

A good rule of thumb on whether or not to intervene in your children fighting is if there’s a physical altercation. If your children are just arguing, yelling, name calling, try to let them work it out themselves (within reason).  If you always break up the fights, your kids may learn that Mom/Dad is going to come rescue me and fix my problem, rather than learning how to compromise and problem solve on their own.


When sitting back isn’t an option, and you need to step in before the whole house implodes, it’s important that you work through the situation with your children. Don’t just stop the argument and send the kids on their way. Help your children process and problem solve the situation; ask them ways they could have handled the situation differently. Don’t turn it into the “blame game”, each child is equally responsible for fighting. Finally, try to get your children to a point where they can agree to a compromise; it may not be exactly want, but they may get some of what they want.


Reducing arguments

Setting ground rules for arguments can also be a good idea; putting boundaries in place for what is and what is not acceptable behaviors during arguments (you as a parent can also reinforce this in your home during your own disagreements with family).


Giving each child one-on-one attention can help reduce sibling rivalry and arguments, especially when spending time with them involves their own interests and needs.  


You could also provide your children with a few toys or items that are solely theirs, that the item is off limits to the other sibling and vice versa, that way there is no doubt who the item belongs to. This cans give the kids a sense of ownership and individuality.


Spending some quality time together as a family may also help; watching a move, going to a park, playing a bored game can ease tension between the siblings while you get to spend time with both of them. 



With all of that has been said, there will always be sibling arguments (even into adulthood), but as parents we can try and mitigate and mediate the arguments our children have. We may not win them all, and there may be times when the outcome is less than desirable by all parties involved,. But, we as parents can lay the groundwork for healthy sibling relationships (and relationships in general) with how we act and react to others in our home and community.