Sibling Rivalry

The most important thing to remember about sibling rivalry is this; the reason that siblings fight is always for attention. Sibling rivalry starts way before the second child is born. Even in utero, the first child is feeling the attention being diverted from him/her and this child is now having to share attention with this unborn child. The competition has begun and the rivalry is soon to follow.

Here is how a fight will typically go. Child A and child B will fight. One of them will call “Mom/Dad!!” and the parent will arrive to “settle” this dispute. The parent will listen to both sides and then decide who was at fault in this argument leaving one child feeling smug and thinking “I won! Mom/Dad likes me best.” and the other feeling angry and thinking “Mom/Dad always take his/her side. They like him/her best. I’ll get even.” If this sounds like the parent, in all his/her good intention, has just sowed the seeds for a new battle to emerge, you’re right.

The experts agree that the best way to handle sibling rivalry is to let the kids work it out for themselves – and they will! Sibling rivalry is healthy and kids learn and practice many great skills when they fight. They learn to feel comfortable when faced with conflict, they learn conflict resolution and problem solving skills, they learn about compromising and how to negotiate.

Here are some pointers to follow when sibling rivalry begins.

1. Treat all fighters equally. It doesn’t matter who started a fight as it takes 2 to fight. One may start the fight but it takes a second person to continue the fight.

2. Do not take sides. This just causes resentment and looks like favortism in the eyes of the children.

3. Stay out of their fights. Kids need to learn how to resolve their fights.

According to the book “Siblings Without Rivalry” written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, there is a “script” to follow.

1. Name what you see/hear. “It looks like you two are mad at each other.

2. Reflect each child’s point of view. “I see that you, Mary, are wanting to play with the blocks that your sister, Sally, is playing with. Sally, you feel that you should play with the blocks because you have already started building with them.”

3. Summarize the problem with respect. “That’s a tough one, 2 children who want the same blocks.”

4. Express confidence in them to work it out. “I am confident that you can work out a solution that is fair to both of you, one where both of you will be happy.

5. Leave the room. You will be amazed at how quickly the children will be able to work out their disputes.

Things to note:

– When kids are young, it will be necessary that you sit down with them and teach them problem solving skills; teach them how to resolve conflicts. Sit them down, one on each side of you and talk through the problem and solutions without you, the parent, having any input on what they come to as a solution.

– If the children are hurting each other, treat each the same and separate them, each to a place where they can cool off before coming together again.

– If the dispute is not getting worked out, you can ask the children if they need help. Let them know that you are willing to help but if you step in, there will be one happy child and one unhappy child. Ask again if they would like help. Usually the answer is that they will work it out on their own.

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