Managing Sibling Rivalry
By Garrett Coan
It is human nature to feel competitive and envious toward others. A
moderate spirit of competition is a positive and productive
attribute in school and in business. Sibling rivalry is a normal
part of growing up in families. The competition between siblings
starts when the second child is born. Unfortunately, many parents
ignore it and some even make the situation worse.
When occasional fighting becomes a constant series of arguments and
fights, it must be dealt with to avoid years of discord and even
potential danger. Here are some tips that will help you lessen your
frustration over argumentative brothers and sisters and help them
learn to get along better.
Do your best to offer each of your children equal amounts of praise
and attention. This is true if they are competing for your attention
or if they are participating in a school or sports activity.
Encourage your children to participate in activities that they truly
enjoy. Don’t expect them to always join activities that they must do
together or where they will be competing against each other.
Children sometimes perceive that their parents favor one child over
the others. While some parents do prefer one child to the others, it
is usually not a conscious choice. If your child tells you that you
favor his or her sibling, pay attention to your behavior; maybe
there is some truth to it. However, if you know you are being fair
or if there is a valid reason for treating one child differently,
stand firm. Sometimes children use the “favorite child” complaint as
a way to make you feel guilty and give them what they want.
Sometimes one child is more cooperative or better behaved than
another. It’s normal to compare siblings, but it’s generally better
not to talk about it. Comparing two kids doesn’t help improve their
behavior; instead, it intensifies the sense of envy and jealousy. A
more constructive strategy is to limit your comments to the problem
behavior. Always avoid telling one child that his or her sibling
does something better.
Make it a rule that family members may become involved in incidents
between siblings only if they actually saw what happened. This keeps
people from being manipulated.
Realize that younger children can be the aggressors. Don’t
automatically rush to their defense.
If two kids are fighting over a toy, take it away. This discourages
them from arguing over who can play with what.
When two kids are fighting, make them share a chair and look at each
other in a mirror. With all the goofy faces they make in the mirror
the disagreement is soon forgotten and they are laughing like best
If the kids continue the fight after a few minutes in the chair,
assign them a chore to do. The excess energy they are directing
toward each other is soon put to better use setting the table or
picking up the toys.
Use the Active Listening technique to allow siblings to express
their feelings. When kids fight, parents often try to talk children
out of their feelings by saying things like “Stop arguing with Tony,
Sarah. You know you love your brother.” Instead, you could
acknowledge the child’s feelings by saying, “Sounds like you’re
pretty upset with Tony.” You might be surprised to see that this
defuses the emotion and enables Tony to move on to something else.
When you give things to children, base your choices on their
individual needs and interests. If you try to avoid arguments by
giving equal gifts to each child, they will inevitably find
something about them that is unfair.
When your children are in an argument, avoid taking sides. If you
can, encourage them to work out their differences. It is almost
impossible to try to determine who started a fight. Even if you know
who started the argument, taking sides only makes things worse. If
your children learn that you will not enter their minor
disagreements, they will have to learn to settle things between
Take a parent education instructor course. As you educate yourself
about parenting, you will change some of your attitudes toward your
children and learn new ways to interact with them. You can have the
kind of family you want if you are willing to work at it, make some
changes in your own behavior, and be patient for things to improve.
You may think that rivalry will stop magically if only you learn to
do the right thing. However, learning new behaviors takes a lot of
time and persistence.
It is important to address the issues of sibling rivalry when
children are young, because it can intensify and persist as children
become adults. It is important not to give up when you feel
frustrated. Things may even seem like they are worse before they
start to improve. Because of your efforts and persistence, your
children will learn how to get along better. That will prepare them
to have productive relationships in the future.
Garrett Coan is a professional therapist,coach and psychotherapist. His two Northern
New Jersey office locations are accessible to individuals who reside in Bergen County,
Essex County, Passaic County, Rockland County, and Manhattan. He offers online and
telephone coaching and counseling services for those who live at a distance. He can be
http://www.creativecounselors.com or 201-303-4303.