If you have more than one kid you know that sibling rivalry can be stressful. Maybe it starts right after the second child is born, and grows from jealousy to competition before turning into constant fighting. It’s hard on parents and it's hard on kids, but, according to experts, it is possible to turn this car around right now (figuratively).
Where your kids are developmentally impacts how well they can share your attention. Experts at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan note that when kids fight they’re competing to define who they are as an individual.
They want to show us that they are separate from their siblings. When one kid feels another is getting too much of your attention, or not as much discipline as they do, they’re going to act out.
Fortunately, how parents react to sibling-on-sibling conflict can make a big difference on how hard and how often they fight.
In their book, Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish put it like this:
“We can either intensify the competition or we can reduce it. We can drive hostile feelings underground or allow them to be vented safely. We can accelerate the fighting or make cooperation possible. Our attitudes and words have power.”
Try these expert techniques:
Treat kids as individuals
Recognize that, “Children don’t need to be treated equally, they need to be treated uniquely,” says Faber and Mazlish and resist the urge to compare.
Their advice echoes that of Dr. Kevin Leman author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. He says treating all kids equally isn’t the best plan, as siblings are all different and impacted by the order in which they are born.
Leman, Faber and Mazlish agree: Parents need to focus on the individual needs of each child, but kids may not always understand this.
Reassure them when things seem unfair
According to the experts at C.S. Mott, “There will still be times when they feel as if they’re not getting a fair share of attention, discipline, or responsiveness from you. Expect this and be prepared to explain the decisions you have made. Reassure your kids that you do your best to meet each of their unique needs.”
Explain to the kids that older or younger kids might have different responsibilities or privileges because of age. Set aside some one-on-one time for each child every day. Just 10 minutes of uninterrupted time with all of mom or dad’s attention can make a big difference to a kid.
Encourage cooperation, not competition
Parents can set siblings up to succeed by making sure that they’re not set up to compete all the time. Do things that make them cooperate, and plan family activities that are fun for everyone. Good experiences help kids bond and act as a buffer when arguments surface because it’s hard to stay mad at someone you have happy memories with.
Let them spread out
Make sure that kids have their own space and time to be themselves. Their room or area within a shared room should be somewhere where they and their property are protected from their sibling, and they should have time to play with friends without their brother or sister coming along, too.
Listen when they are calm
Use alone time to ask kids what they like about their sibling and what they don’t like. Really listen to their complaints, and reinforce the positive things they do see in each other.
When kids feel heard, they’re less likely to squabble for your attention, so really listening to what’s going on in their lives and in their inter-sibling relationships is an important step in preventing sibling rivalry.
Seriously. When all else fails and sibling spats are escalating, consider the time of day the fights are most often occurring and whether or not the kids have eaten recently when they get into it. Hungry kids are more likely to fight, so an earlier snack time may take the bite out of sibling rivalry.