Tackling Sibling Rivalry without Getting Hit in the Crossfire

Family conflicts are simply a reality of life when we have more than one child. While being forced to listen to the constant fighting may have us at times rethinking parenthood, sibling rivalry is actually an important opportunity for our children to learn how to get along and resolve conflict with others.

Some siblings fight like cats and dogs, some are fortunate enough to be the best of friends and only fight occasionally, and some, like my offspring, swing back and forth between adoring and detesting one other.

Trust me, I know firsthand the frustration of feeling like an extra in a Rocky movie. (Luckily, in my case, no blood was ever drawn.) Being in the crossfire of our kids’ constant bickering and fighting is no fun. A household that's full of conflict is stressful for everyone.

While we don’t always know how to stop the fighting, or if it’s even up to us to step into the ring, the good news is that one day, it’ll eventually end. In the meantime, there are steps we can take to help our kids get along better and maintain some peace in the Kingdom (or in my case, the Queendom.)

When Does Sibling Rivalry Begin?

Most people don’t think of sibling rivalry beginning before the second child is born, but it often does. Sibling rivalry usually begins the moment a child realizes that their perfect world is suddenly being challenged by the very real threat: the expectation to share their parent’s love with someone new.

My oldest child was not at all interested in having someone else come into the picture and stealing her thunder. She was the first-born and was used to being the star in our little family. Whenever we talked about the new baby, she would become fussy and even regress back to sucking her thumb. When her sister finally arrived, she wasn’t at all pleased that we were actually considering bringing this stranger home with us from the hospital.

A few days after I brought her sister home, the three of us were about to leave the house to run errands when she put her hands on her hips and asked defiantly (it actually felt more like a statement than a question) “SHE isn’t coming with us, is she?” I told her gently that as a big sister, it was her very important job to help me take care of her little sister. After a second, she grabbed the diaper bag and said with a tentative smile, “Okay.”

Because most parents are not psychologists, it’s difficult to understand that our child has not yet developed the cognitive skills to imagine the future. So while we might be projecting into the future about the arrival of our new baby with anticipation and excitement, our older child is living in the present, feeling only the fear of being replaced.

Once our older child realizes that this ugly little pink thing that cries and poops all the time is here to stay, it’s up to us not to shame them. We need to try to understand that their intense feelings of jealousy are very real to them. We have to assure them that they are not being replaced, constantly reminding them how important they are to us and the family as a whole.

How Can You Improve Sibling Relationships?

Even if we have worked hard to get the rest of the older kids on board with the new little person coming into the picture, there is going to be a certain jealousy that a thousand time-outs won’t change.

We can’t shame or blame little people in their quest to be the most loved or favored. All children want to feel important and be at the top of the heap. The plan shouldn’t be to eradicate sibling rivalry, but instead to see it in the bigger picture, as a key element in teaching them to resolve conflict in their lives.

Here are some guidelines to help along the way:

  • Appreciate and celebrate the uniqueness of all your kids.
  • Don’t compare and point out your children’s differences in front of each other.
  • Let them know what behaviors you deem punishable and stick to these rules for everyone— be consistent!
  • Try not to get suckered into playing referee in your kid’s battles. Encourage them to solve conflicts on their own.
  • Spend some quality alone time every day with each child and create separate relationships
  • Let your children know that it’s okay to be angry and that feelings pass. Remind them that they can feel angry but still love each other.
  • When all else fails, the next time your kids fight, bicker, say hateful things, or hit each other, try a healthy dose of humor. Put on a big, red clown nose and innocently stroll into the room.

How do you tackle sibling rivalry between your kids? Do you find that it gets easier over time? (Hah, wishful thinking!) Share your stories and advice with us in the comments below!

Tags : parenting   siblings   

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