- Pull up the roots.
Often, competition is the root of sibling rivalry. Do away with comparisons, labels, or favoritism. If children are compared to one another, there will be rivalry. Children are unique and yes, some can be easier to parent than others. But, trust me! You will not make them less difficult by contributing to their inferiority to their siblings. Labels such as “the smart one” or “the athletic one” and similar can also cause competition, not to mention extinguish those same great qualities in the other siblings. For example, the supposedly – lesser athletic child thinks, “If they don’t acknowledge me as athletic then, why should I try at baseball? I will give half effort or goof off and still meet their expectations.” Many children have just as much of any given attribute but develop at different rates or have yet to prove themselves. Another way children compete is by always searching for fair. Some children are naturally bent towards justice-seeking. Do not reinforce this. Each child should feel valued and get what they need, not what is given to their sibling. If the justice-seeking child sees you trying to do everything equal and “fair”, they will continue to look for holes in your delivery of this equality mode of operation. If you combine this with a competitive spirit (a child who needs to be the best, the expert, and favorite at every endeavor), it can be especially difficult to keep sibling rivalry at bay.
- Intervene only when absolutely necessary.
When you feel you must run interference, ask THE CHILDREN “How might this problem be solved?” Allow the children to answer instead of solving the dispute for them.
Another effective practice is to acknowledge BOTH siblings’ parts in the problem.
By verbalizing the ownership of both children, they never think yelling for mom will gain them a pass at being the victim or free entertainment of watching their sibling be reprimanded. In other words, “It doesn’t pay to tell Mom if, I am also going to be corrected.” In almost every case, there is an instigator and a reactor. Many times, only one of these is reprimanded. Which one usually gets reprimanded depends on the household and, you can usually tell who that is by noting which one is not often the one tattling. Make sure each take ownership in the problem. This was a rule of mine with settling sibling disputes when my children were young. I remember my son did not have the clever way with words like his older sister therefore, when he was frustrated, he would whop her a good one. She would cry “Ouch!” and yell for me to see how horrible she had been treated. I not only told her little brother how unkind it is to hit or hurt others but, I also would ask her what she was doing to make him feel he must resort to hitting her. She was quite prideful and did not enjoy admitting her part. It didn’t take long for her to learn it did not pay off for her to tattle.
- Nurture the relationship by instilling a role of care taking of one another – a team mentality.
It often falls to the first-born to set the tone for this part of the relationship therefore, work with the oldest initially.
Here are some examples of the messages to convey to your kids in your daily life:
- Your brother needs you; you help him have more confidence when…
- Let’s support your sister, she is struggling with….
- Both of you have strengths that can help one another.
- When all the world is against you, you will have one another.
- Best friends come and go but, you always have each other.
In addition, allow them space for their own relationship and friendship to flourish. Parents do themselves a disservice by being envious of their own kids’ relationship or time together.
All the above takes change and action on the parent’s part and practice. Give yourself some grace for not always getting it right. Depending on your children’s ages, you may even want to have a family meeting about this topic and see what they should contribute. Ask them how they may feel compared to their siblings or what is the most annoying things their siblings do to bother them. Get it all out on the table and validate their feelings and frustration. Then, you can let them know some things will be different in the future. You will be modeling for them apologizing, making mistakes, and trying again.