How Can Parents Handle Sibling Rivalry?


Spring 2024

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Sibling rivalry is unavoidable; if you have more than one child, you will have to put up with it and address it. Sibling rivalry has existed for thousands of years; stories in the book of Genesis, for example, are full of envious siblings like Cain and Abel or Esau and Jacob.

As a parent, you must look beyond the rivalry to help your children maintain peaceful relations. However, this might be easier said than done. Consider a few strategies to minimize sibling rivalry and help your children maintain a peaceful bond in the family.

Understanding Sibling Rivalry

There are several reasons for siblings to argue; jealousy, competition, conflict, and sometimes mere boredom makes children fight with one another. In some cases, they might need attention from you or their brother or sister.

According to psychologists, sibling rivalry has benefits; it can help children navigate power struggles, learn to compromise, resolve conflicts, and become assertive. It can also help children discover what’s unique and special about themselves, which is also known as differentiation.

As a parent, your goal is to minimize sibling rivalry and use conflicts to teach your children important life lessons. You can also enforce rules and establish connection-building practices to mitigate sibling rivalry.

Establish Rules

When managing rivalry in a game between siblings or tasks around the home, for example, create rules to minimize conflict. These rules relate to how the children interact with one another. For instance, before you start playing a game, you might say there is no hitting, using bad words, or name-calling. In other cases, they will have to ask before using something that belongs to someone else. 

Resolve Conflicts

After an argument settles, sit down with your children without playing the blame game. Allow each child to express their opinion. Try to make them come up with solutions to the problem by taking their suggestions.

Before the problem escalates, commit to a solution that will please all parties. For example, if your children are fighting over which show to watch on TV, convince them to take turns to choose which show to watch or agree on a show they both like.  

Praise Publicly and Punish Privately

If your children are kind to one another, take the opportunity to commend them. For example, you could say, “That’s nice, you let your brother go first.” If you are punishing or criticizing your child, don’t do it in front of the other siblings because they could use that against them. Older siblings might boss around younger siblings and tease them by constantly reminding them of your comments.

Set Up Regular Family Meetings

Meeting with each child one-on-one can have a profound effect on them. Not only does it make your child feel valued and appreciated, but it also allows them to voice their opinions. When you actively listen to your children’s needs, you know what’s on their mind and can offer them practical solutions.

You can use the strategies above to mitigate the effects of sibling rivalry. Nevertheless, sometimes your best efforts may not work to resolve the continuous conflicts. If the rivalry is affecting your marriage and causing psychological concerns among your children, it is wise to get professional help.

Aaron Levinson  | Staff Writer

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