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Siblings: What to do about rivalry

Sibling rivalry refers to fighting, squabbling and jealousy between brothers and sisters, and seems to be based on the fact that each child would ideally like to have the parent's exclusive attention and therefore resents the sibling's presence. As a result, if there is more than one child in a family, sibling rivalry is almost inevitable. If children are less than three years apart in age, rivalry is likely to be most intense. However, siblings can learn to get along and usually will stand up for each other if other children try to hurt their brother or sister. It is important to remember that, next to parents, early relationships with siblings are usually our most important relationships and can significantly affect how we feel about ourselves.

Dealing With Fights and Squabbles Between Siblings

Although it's natural for children in families to compete for attention, and to argue or even hit each other, it can be annoying, and even dangerous.

Here are some suggestions for reducing sibling fighting:

  • Avoid becoming involved in every argument between siblings. Try not to become a constant referee and hover over your children's play. However, ensure that no child is constantly being teased, put down or physically hurt by a sibling.

  • Avoid comparing siblings. In particular, try not to say that one child is better in some way than the other. Do not label children (for example, "the smart one" or "the shy one"). These comparisons not only set up rivalries, but can also become self-fulfilling prophecies.

  • Develop a general "no violence" rule in your home, which also applies to sibling fights. Your children will soon learn that hurting a sibling is not tolerated!

  • Don't expect sibling rivalry only after a baby is born. It often doesn't occur until the new baby is about six months old, awake for much of the day and more of a little person.

  • Understand that it won't always be possible to give everything equally, and explain to your children that sometimes it will be their turn to get something and sometimes it won't. Being fair to each of your children and meeting their needs, does not mean everything is always equal.

  • Try to have one-on-one time with each child individually, as it makes a child feel very special to be the only one around sometimes.

  • When fighting does occur, often it is best to separate the children. However, if you are feeling up to it and the fighting hasn't escalated too much, it can be a great opportunity to teach children about conflict resolution and problem-solving. You can do this by asking each child for his point of view of what happened, and then asking for ideas on how to resolve the situation. Although the children may suggest some crazy solutions, you will be surprised how they will also suggest some innovative ones.

  • Look carefully at how you deal with disagreements with your partner and your children when one arises. Do you solve the problem heatedly, yet peacefully, swearing and walking out, hitting, ignoring (coming to no conclusion) or taking deep breaths and trying to talk it out? This gives children a pattern to follow.

  • When they fight, don't take sides, especially if you weren't there to see exactly what happened. Have them spend a few minutes away from each other so they can calm down, then ask them to return so you can all talk about it together.

  • Encourage your children to talk about their feelings with each other and to try to settle their differences with words, not actions. Explain how important it is to listen to each other.

  • Avoid taking on the job of referee - kids have to learn to resolve disagreements themselves, more and more as they get older. When you feel your children are ready, stay close by in case they need you, but tell them that you think they can work out the disagreement on their own.

  • Remember that some fighting is fun for children, and there is no reason for you to intervene at those times.

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