BY JAMIE LOBER
If you have two or more children, you have probably witnessed sibling rivalry. The American Psychological Association has said that sibling rivalry refers to the feelings of envy, jealousy, and competitiveness that exist between brothers and sisters within the family. The Center for Parenting Education has named various forms of sibling rivalry, such as:
- Throwing things
- Hiding things of importance to the other sibling
- Challenging beliefs
It is inevitably going to be hurtful to watch your kids attempt to tear one another down. Sometimes sibling rivalry is outgrown and other times it can last a lifetime.
Sibling rivalry can occur in childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood, as two or more siblings compete for the parents’ love and attention. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that almost 80 percent of children grow up with at least one brother or sister. You want to respect that every child has his own temperament, mood, and personality. As a parent, the best thing you can do is serve as a strong positive role model, so your child knows how to be considerate of others, to respectfully disagree at times and solve problems in life.
Keep in mind that your first child may have trouble accepting a new sibling and giving up his position as only child. In order to prevent the first child from reverting to infantile behavior, allow him to have an active role in your pregnancy plan and birth experience. You want to make him feel important by giving him age-appropriate helping tasks, with the hope that it may deter him from wanting to rival his sibling and assert his power.
It really is possible for your children to get along. Some tips that can help create a healthier dynamic include:
- Do not show favoritism by taking sides
- Stay calm and remain an objective party
- Never assign blame
- Comment on each child’s strengths and do not make comparisons
- Attempt to give each child attention via alone-time every day
- Teach your child how to express his emotions with statements like, “I feel ___ when you ___.”
- Give your kids time and space to go separate ways
- Do activities as a family
- Practice turn-taking
- Teach your kids coping strategies, such as taking a deep breath, counting to 10 or walking away from an uncomfortable situation
- Let your kids know they are loved
Be sure to establish rules in your home as to what behavior is, and is not, acceptable. Remember that physical aggression should not be tolerated at any cost. Some clear expectations you want to communicate include:
- No kicking
- No grabbing
- No yelling
To give extra encouragement, be sure there are rewards and punishments involved. Praise your child for being kind, sharing, or expressing his feelings. If your child acts out, you may want to restrict a privilege, such as time with technology, or give them a time out. Depending on the ages of your kids, it may be beneficial to supervise them as you allow them to work through the conflict. A younger child may need some extra help. Another great idea is to hold a family meeting where you review rules and talk about your kids’ successes, as well as any mishaps that took place during the week. Do not always step in right away, as conflict resolution is a critical life skill and practice makes perfect. Remember that sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up in a household where there is more than one child in the family. There will always be some instances where the sibling rivalry is so severe that it hinders daily functioning; in which case, you want to reach out to a psychologist, family therapist, or pediatrician for guidance.