Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry is as old as human beings and is a perfectly natural part of family life in which you have more than one child. 

As parents we often forget that the bickering and constant competing for attention, toys or space is actually quite normal and have to force ourselves to remember that we most likely were just the same as young children with our siblings.  I remember that whenever we had to travel, my sister and I would sit with a parent each on opposite ends of the aeroplane simply so we would not bicker for the 10 hour flight from Scotland, where we were from and South Africa, where we lived! That was in the days before in-flight entertainment I say in my defense!

My children are now 3 and 7 and they seem quite capable of arguing from the moment they get up until the moment they fall asleep!  I have to remind myself that this is normal! They are of different sexes, they have really quite different temperaments and because of their ages have different needs and interests. However they have to share space, toys, and the attention and affection of a dog, a helper and two parents – it is not easy.

Often we prepare the older sibling for the arrival of the baby and even though the new baby may be incredibly demanding of Mum’s time and cuddles it can usually be managed, especially if Dad or Grandparents can make special time for the first child.  Just when we are about to pat ourselves on the back on a parenting job well done – the little one starts crawling or walking and grabbing everything they see that the older child plays with and loves.  To not put too fine a point on it, that is usually when all hell breaks loose!

The next big milestone in Sibling Rivalry is when the little one can enunciate quite clearly, usually with a whine “that’s not fair’!  And so it goes on.

Although I have come to the conclusion that is impossible to completely eradicate sibling rivalry there are some rules to keep in mind that should enable you to keep it within the boundary of what is healthy family behaviour.
     Don't make comparisons.

             This is so important! Each child is different.  I have to stop myself saying to my son (7 years old) “why are we still waiting for you, Ruby has put on her shoes and is ready to go and she is only 3”!! Each child is a unique individual and resents being evaluated only in relation to anyone else, especially not their pesky little sister or their smart alec big brother! By making comparisons you are developing an urge to compete against each other, to outdo the other one in order to win your approval, rather than support each other.  This sense of competition should not be encouraged by making comparisons as it can be the number one reason for a complete break down in the sibling relationship.

 Don’t deny how the child may feel.

Many people are not necessarily comfortable with expressions of anger but it is important to recognize it is a perfectly natural human emotion and there are many ways to manage it. It is fine to say that your little sister is infuriating you and ask for help to get her away from your Lego masterpiece, it is not ok to hit her over the head with the Lego box! Children also need to know that Mums and Dads can get angry with them too, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love their children, it means they are very frustrated with the behaviour they are seeing. It is important to discuss anger and acceptable reactions to anger.

Don’t use guilt to stop negative behaviour.  

            This is similar to the understanding that anger is perfectly normal.  As parents it is our role to do that and to supervise young children enough to intervene if we feel they may not be able to manage their frustration or fury and will act out physically. Often the child just wants the other one to stop whatever it is he or she is doing. They don’t really want to cause harm, so rather than saying - ”Now look what you’ve done”, reassure the child that you know they didn’t mean to hurt the little one (or vice versa). Get them to say sorry and bring both of them in for cuddles. The guilt they will naturally feel will be bad enough. 
            Wait before jumping in. If at all possible let brothers and sisters work out their own peace process. This does not mean walking away and ‘leaving them to it’ but rather observe and quite often they do work it out.  Obviously if violence or extreme distress is evident you will have to step in. By watching my two I am often surprised by their level of negotiating skills and how one will often compromise so a peaceful settlement can be reached. There is in fact a huge amount of learning involved in these squabbles and we must resist the urge to jump in to quieten it all down.

At Chiltern house review, where there is a family like environment for students, students also learn teamwork when it comes to group projects. Though conflicts may at time occur, there is always a emphasis on communication and students learn to make up with each other with the help of teachers.  

The famous author and poet Dylan Thomas summed up sibling relationships beautifully when he said: “It snowed last year too:  I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
As a parent the best way to manage sibling rivalry is to be fair, be kind and have a good sense of humour!


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