How to Deal with Sibling Rivalry

By JustMommies staff

With sibling rivalry, we have to understand that conflict is inevitable. It’s common for brothers and sisters to experience some degree of competition and jealousy, because having a sibling always reduces the time and attention you get from your parents. If you look at this from the point of view of a child, when a new brother or sister comes along, it’s a situation that can be compared to your spouse bringing home another wife or husband and expecting you immediately to love the intruder. Remember, kids have different temperaments. Some children are naturally shy, some are naturally sociable, some naturally aggressive. Your kid’s mood, disposition and adaptability will play a large role in how well they get along. Of course, watching your children fight can be frustrating and stressful to deal with. As parents, it’s our challenge to figure out how to handle the constant squabbling by not making things worse. spoke with Dr. Kerby Alvy, the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Improvement of Child Caring. He gave us some great pointers from the book “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish to help parents deal with sibling rivalry and promote peace in the household.

Example: You are nursing your infant, when your toddler comes up with a sad face and exclaims, “You are always with the baby!” You could say, “No, I’m not. Didn’t I just read to you?” Well, that’s not really identifying with the little guy’s feelings. The way you could do that and show him that his feelings are ok, would be to say something like, “You don’t like my spending so much time with her, do you?”
Example: Let’s say 12-year-old Michelle is coming up to daddy while he’s reading the sport’s section and her brother has been irritating her. What she says to daddy, “He does it on purpose! He always burps when I’m around!” Well, daddy could say, “Big deal.” That isn’t acknowledging her feelings. Instead, daddy could try something like, “You feel he does it just to irritate you, don’t you?” These are ways you can acknowledge that it’s ok to have negative feelings towards your siblings, and that’s an important message to give kids.

Example: Your 4-year-old is sitting at the table, drinking milk. He’s having a little trouble managing the glass and ends up spilling a little on his shirt. You could say, “That’s disgusting. Even the baby doesn’t spill it all over herself!” Well, that’s a little negative and could make the child think mommy likes the baby better. Instead, you could try something like, “There’s a little milk dripping down the front of your shirt.” Then the child may do something about it himself.
Example: Your 13-year-old daughter has a hole in her skirt and she wants you to fix it before school starts. She asks you (mommy) to do the sewing. As you are busy patching it up, she says something like, “You are doing it too slow. Why is it taking so long?!” What you say in response, “Don’t call me slow. Your sister never talks to me that way.” A better way to handle this situation would be to say, “It’s hard for me to be helpful, when I’m being criticized.” These are a couple great ways to avoid making negative comparisons.

Example: You are sitting on the couch and your 7-year-old son comes up and asks, “Mommy, who do you love best?” This is not unusual for children to ask. A common response would be, “I love you all the same. Or… I’ve told you a hundred times, I love you all equally.” Most kids will assume that you are just saying that because you have to. A better way of handling this question would be something like, “Each one of you is special to me. You are my only Michael. In the whole wide world, there is not another like you. No one has your thoughts or your smile. I’m so glad you are my son.”

Example: Let’s discuss the scariest form of fighting for parents, and that’s when fighting is starting to turn into hurting. Let’s say that 5-year-old George is standing on a chair, ready to throw a truck at his brother’s head. His older brother is right in front of him, with a baseball bat. You’ve got a situation here where children can get badly hurt. The first thing that a parent should do is describe what is they are seeing. “I see one boy on a chair about to throw a truck and another boy about to hit with a baseball bat. Both of them are furious. Now, this is a dangerous situation. We gotta have a cooling off period. Quick, both of you go to your rooms!” This is one way of diffusing the situation immediately and constructively handling the fight.
Example: Let’s pick a situation where two girls are battling over property. 9-year-old Tara wants to borrow her older sister, Lisa’s blouse. Their dialogue could go something like, “Can I wear this? It matches my skirt perfectly and we are having a party today.” “No, it’s mine.” “You never wear it.” “But I might!” “Please, just for today?” “I said NO.” “MOM!!!” This is the situation you come in on. Now, you could side with the property owner and here is what you might say, “This blouse belongs to your sister. Let’s not have any more discussion about it. Give it back to her.” In other words, you make the decision for the child. This is not the best way to handle the situation, because it could appear to one child that another is being favored, which will foster even more resentment. Don’t come in and take over. A more constructive way to deal with this scenario is to let the kids handle the issue themselves. Here is how it could play out, “Boy, you two sound pretty upset with each other. Tara, you want to wear it to the party… but the blouse is still special to you, Lisa, even though you’ve outgrown it. Well, it’s your blouse and your decision. But if you want to work something out with your sister- that would be between the two of you.” Kids are very creative. You might see something like, “I’ll trade you. You can wear my new silver earrings all week, if I can wear your blouse just for today.” Whenever possible, don’t get involved. Let your kids learn how to work out problems on their own. This is an important skill for later in life as well. It’s important to let children learn how to compromise and negotiate, how to value another’s perspective, and how to control their aggressive impulses.

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