How to Reduce Sibling Rivalry (for Parents)

Three Methods:Adopting New Parenting TechniquesReinforcing Positive RelationshipsOvercoming Barriers

Sibling rivalry occurs when two or more children fight and bicker with one another to get attention from their parents. As a parent, you may feel confused about how to handle this issue without making matters worse. Luckily, you can help your children sort out their differences in a positive way by teaching them the best ways to work together and also by building in time to bond over family activities that encourage the positive without giving attention to the negative.

Method 1
Adopting New Parenting Techniques

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    Ignore minor offenses like teasing. Sometimes, they will bicker simply to get your attention. Refrain from giving them attention for negative behavior. Try your best to stay out of it. Removing yourself from the room when they start to squabble will send them the message that their arguing does not garner any attention from you. No need to say anything, just simply and quietly go into another room when they start up.[1]
    • Be careful to monitor the situation to make sure it does not go beyond minor teasing and into the realm of hurtful abuse. If there is one child that is always targeted or even picked one by a group of siblings it may be time to step in to protect the child in the minority.
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    Allow the children to work out their own differences. As long as they are not physically or emotionally hurting each other, they can learn a lot from refining the process of solving their own squabbles.[2]
    • You can offer them a framework to start the process off in a positive light. You can do this by modeling active listening and problem solving within your relationships in the household.
    • For example, when one person is talking, others should face their direction and refrain from interrupting until the person has finished speaking. Offer solutions that allow everyone to benefit like "Okay, so we both want to watch TV, but we have different choices. We can watch your pick for an hour and then watch mine."
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    Set consequences that apply to everyone involved. These consequences should be logical and systematically used. You can also involve the kids in setting up the consequences so they know what happens if they don’t work things out and why it happens.[3]
    • Deliver consequences that are logical and apply to everyone involved. For example, all the children who are bickering may lose the same amount of minutes spent arguing from an activity of choice. The children have the chance to decide for future cases whether taking part in the argument is worth missing out on that activity.
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    Give all your children special, quality time alone with you. Focus on what makes each child unique and do activities around that to give them as much positive attention as possible. Focus this time on getting to know each child and exploring their individual needs.[4]
    • If both parents are in the household, each parent should find a way to spend at least 10 minutes alone with each child every day. Show the kids that you are readily available for positive time together so they do not feel the need to fight to gain attention.

Method 2
Reinforcing Positive Relationships

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    Model healthy conflict resolution. This includes the way you interact with the kids, your spouse and the discipline you use. You cannot ask the kids not to tease each other if that is the way you joke with them. Kids will model what you do but often take it to an extreme.[5]
    • Be mindful about always “fighting fair”, meaning you model positive ways to solve problems instead of blowing up in an aggressive way.[6]
    • This may include allowing everyone to participate in the process of brainstorming solutions together. You can model this by giving the kids opportunities to think up fair solutions to everyday problems.
    • For example, if you and your partner are disagreeing and shouting, you might call for a time out and then regroup at a later time to discuss the problem more objectively. Similarly, the children can call for a time out while everyone goes to brainstorm some possible ways to fix the problem. Once they regroup, everyone can take turns sharing their solution and everyone votes on the most sensible plan.
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    Create systems for situations that generally provoke arguing. If you know your children will argue about who gets to do what, come up with a plan to rotate privileges so that everyone gets an equal opportunity. Talk about these systems with the kids and let them come up with the rotating schedule so that they all feel invested in sticking to it.[7]
    • Encourage the kids to compromise and create their own system to balance things out. For example, if they always argue over a prime seat in the car, suggest solutions that will make it fair to everyone like every other turn they switch off.
    • At first you may need to be the neutral party who keeps track of who went last and who is first the next time, but once they get used to the system, the kids should be able to do this together.
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    Praise them when they are behaving appropriately. You can even implement a system for rewards like a token reward system. A system based on token rewards basically mean that for times when you see positive behavior that has already been defined you can give the kids a token or point. Within the system a certain number of tokens add up to a reward.[8]
    • The reward can be something as simple as a special activity, but it should be something the kids value. It also needs to be something they can actually obtain, so start with smaller values to add up to the reward.
    • Praise might also be verbal. For instance, you might say "Well, look at you two sharing without being asked. Great job!"
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    Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. The level of rivalry may change as your family changes, so be aware that this conversation is not a one-time thing but on going. These conversations can be with a parent, with a trusted adult or even part of a program for kids in similar situations as long as the person is willing to listen and engage.[9]
    • At home, you can have one-on-one check-ins with each child to encourage sharing. "Robert, I've noticed you seem distracted. Why don't we talk about what's been going on?" is a great start to getting your child to open up. Plus, he or she will probably appreciate that you noticed a change.
    • Examples of classes for kids in unique situations would include families that are expecting a new baby and the changes that come along with that, or even sibling groups for families that include one or more kids with special needs. These situations may increase sibling issues and require more supports.

Method 3
Overcoming Barriers

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    Avoid comparing your children. Recognize and highlight the unique characteristics of each child. You may think that every younger child looks up to older siblings, but comparing them does not actually make them want to succeed to follow in the older’s footsteps. It can do the exact opposite when the one child feels like it is impossible to measure up so the best thing to do is give up.[10]
    • In addition, avoid trying to use one child as a teacher or protector of one of the other kids. This creates an unbalanced sense of power and can make the younger or less talented sibling feel bad. If the kids look to each other for advice or guidance this is the time to encourage working together.
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    Drop the labels. Calling one child the “troublemaker” certainly won’t encourage friendly, polite interactions between your children. Neither will describing one as the “brainiac”. Doing this allows each child to develop their own sense of self. It also allows each child to play a variety of roles.[11]
    • Labeling the kids based on their birth order is another form of labeling. Do not force older siblings to always be the grown one or take on a care giving role. At some point, all the kids will play the role of teacher and student.
    • Be careful about giving one child too much responsibility as far as being a role model or “super kid” to take care of a younger child or someone with special needs. While most kids will strive to be helpful, it isn’t their role to take care of a sibling.
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    Don’t take sides during a disagreement. You are not doing anyone any favors pointing out who is right or wrong. It may seem like a logical way to end an argument is to tell the kids who won, but this just creates a more desperate situation for the child on the losing side of the argument to get attention—whether negative or positive.[12]
    • Each child needs to know they are valued and loved. Even if it is obvious one of them is right, you pointing it out can come across as playing favorites.
    • If the children are persistent in trying to make you take sides, come up with a line you can repeat that reminds them that they need to resolve the matter without your input. This may be something like "You all need to work through this without me because I will not take sides. If I have to get involved, everyone will have the same punishment."
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    Refrain from giving them the idea that life is fair. Most things in life are not. Set realistic expectations for your children about parenting and how much time and attention you can provide each child.[13]
    • Avoid getting caught up in trying to treat each child exactly alike or spend equal time with each. Each child will go through times where one may suddenly need a lot more time to address a need and this is OK. There is no system that says you have to give each child equal treatment, you should focus on showing each child love however it is needed.
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    See a trained professional for serious conflict issues. In some severe cases, you may have to attend family therapy to resolve sibling rivalry. One or more children may gang up on another or your efforts to intervene may be ineffective. Professional counselors and therapists who work with families can help you identify the root cause of the rivalry and help your entire family learn to communicate and manage conflict more effectively.[14]

Article Info

Categories: Behavioral Issues