Managing Sibling Rivalry

Posted on October 29th, 2016


Raising children is the most difficult job there is. Ensuring that your children get along is even more complicated: sibling rivalry is very common. After all, we are innately wired to survive and compete for our needs – love, time, and attention. No matter the love given, children are bound to get into conflicts – it is inevitable. So, how can parents help their children refrain from the rivalry and all its facets if it’s hardwired into them? Here are a few helpful tools to support parents in setting an example and working toward a household free from opposition.

Avoid comparison.
The challenge is to resist the urge to identify one child as unfavorable to another. It’s common to compare children to one another, but it sends the message that children are to be measured to their counterpart. Providing praise is important, but using comparisons can lead to more competition. There is a saying I have come to remember: “Never compare yourself to others, you’ll either become bitter or vain.” When attempting to correct an unfavorable behavior, describe what you see, speak to the child about the behavior that, and determine what needs to be done. Describe what you see and how you feel about it, in place of mentioning the other child at all. This can avoid invalidating the other sibling’s experience.

Share your enthusiasm and proud comments for the deserving child separately. When it comes to your children already comparing themselves to each other, it’s important that they know that mom and dad see them as separate individuals, and are not interested in their pleas of comparisons.

Life isn’t fair!
It’s useless to always try to make things equal for your children. Ultimately, can you as a parent ever really give enough? Insanity can come from feeling compelled to deliver equality to your children. Although your children may want everything to be equal and fair, this is not truly possible. Instead of worrying about giving and dividing equally, focus on their individual needs. In place of claiming equal love, you can focus on how they’re loved uniquely. Another thing to remember is that ultimately your acceptance of their disappointment when things seem unfair will help with them with life’s inevitable inequalities.

Calm the feud.
Maintain composure and respond in a way that will calm the feud instead of fueling the fire. Your awareness of your emotional state is vital prior to asserting yourself in the dispute. The ability to manage your reaction without acting emotionally is a skill, but ultimately, a calm demeanor will help you to be present, listen to the needs of your children, and respond constructively. Reflecting their feelings will ease tension and show your children that you are giving them your undivided attention. By modeling composure and a thoughtful approach, you are also supporting the building of self-control and emotional regulation. Listen to each side of the conflict with respect and address the difficulty of the problem. Especially with teens, it’s important to express your confidence in their ability to work out a mutually agreeable solution to the problem and leave them to it. Modeling positive, blame-free communication and responding accordingly is a valuable skill that can be continually enforced. In the case that the situation is unsafe, remind them of the rules, offer alternatives, and, if needed, separate them.

There may not be an easy step-by-step system to solve sibling rivalry, but these tools can assist in establishing boundaries and conflict resolution skills. Normal rivalries are bound to occur, but it’s nice to know that through the most difficult times your children may: learn to assert themselves effectively, defend themselves, compromise, and, despite the envy they may feel toward their sibling, become inspired to work harder and achieve more.

*Based on concepts from the book, “Sibling without Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.