by Brandy Abalos

While sibling rivalry is normal, it can be frustrating. It often takes the form of arguing, tattling, name-calling, competitive activities and even physical fighting. It makes parents wish their children would be appreciative and supportive of one another. While children will likely grow into that loving bond, there are strategies to deal with sibling rivalry until then.

Understanding Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry happens among almost all brothers and sisters. While parents can minimize the bickering, it’s impossible to eliminate it completely. Siblings often argue because of jealousy and conflicting temperaments. They may be bored or even seek attention from their parents. Some siblings argue as a method of communication before parents have taught them a better way to connect with one another.

The goal is to use these conflicts to create positive change. Children who engage in sibling rivalry have teachable moments. There may even be some benefits to sibling rivalry. Focus on preventing the negative impacts, such as unhealthy and excessive conflict.

Key Strategies to Manage Sibling Rivalry

There are some strategies to implement within the family to manage a healthy sibling rivalry.

  1. Establish Consistent Rules. Work with the fighting siblings to create rules that make sense and aim to minimize conflict. These rules might include keeping their hands to themselves and using words to solve problems. Try to keep the boundaries positive instead of focusing on the negative.
  2. Define Family Values. Families should brainstorm what is important to each member of the family. Think about values like respect and kindness. Creating a family manifesto can be helpful. Parents can refer to it when their children begin fighting and remind them that they should work to embody those characteristics they value.
  3. Teach Children Empathy. Empathy is a skill that every child can learn. It helps them identify and understand others’ emotions. Some ways to teach empathy include modeling it, celebrating when they use empathetic language and doing activities to encourage empathy.
  4. Teach Children to Be Kind. Children naturally want to do things for others. However, they also have a strong drive for self-preservation. These characteristics are not independent of one another. Teaching children to be kind while ensuring others treat them well is possible. Ensure they understand the value of diversity and the importance of acceptance.
  5. Encourage Children to Use “I Feel” Statements. Conflict often arises because one side is pointing the finger at the other. Instead of focusing on what their sibling did wrong, children should use statements that identify how they feel. By discussing their emotions with “I feel” statements, children learn how to communicate effectively.
  6. Model Conflict Resolution. Everyone has conflicts, even parents. When parents disagree with someone, they should aim to show their children how to solve those problems effectively. They should model how to cool down when they’re upset and navigate to a compromise with respect.
  7. Allow Them to Problem-Solve. It is unhelpful for parents to get in between their children’s minor squabbles. These conflicts are a safe opportunity to learn how to navigate issues when they arise. When parents need to intervene, the children should help them develop a plan to reach a solution. These times are also an excellent opportunity for parents to model handling conflicts calmly.
  8. Teach Children How to Relax. Sibling rivalry exacerbates the stress and anxiety many children feel. When children learn techniques for relaxation, they gain control of themselves and the situation. They need guidance to breathe deeply, journal or squeeze a stress ball before exploding and escalating a conflict.
  9. Teach Children to be Assertive. Conflict often begins with aggressive behavior that can be offensive. Instead, children need to learn how to be assertive and set boundaries for how they would like others to treat them. For example, a child might tell their siblings not to call them names by saying, “I don’t like when you call me that. My name is Michael. Call me that instead.”
  10. Acknowledge Their Feelings. One of the most important actions parents can take when dealing with sibling rivalry is acknowledging the concerns and feelings of all the siblings involved. Parents should be careful not to show favoritism and ensure each child knows their parent cares about their emotions.

Minimize Sibling Rivalry Strategically

While sibling rivalry is normal and natural, there are ways to minimize it. It can be an opportunity to teach conflict management skills and help children grow into better-adjusted adults.