When nastiness unfurls between brothers and sisters, everyone winds up hurt and stressed. But parents can curb sibling rivalry by understanding its causes – and addressing the issues it raises.
Squabbles are normal among kids in the same family. Every child craves the individual attention of each parent – and wants to be the “most loved” by mom and dad. Kids lack the mental maturity to understand a parent’s love expands with the birth of each additional child, so each child is loved equally.
Many fights that seem to be about particular issues are really about trying to win that exclusive love. It’s common for a child to occasionally wish his siblings simply didn’t exist.
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You’ll never eliminate sibling rivalry, but you can reduce its frequency and intensity. Follow these tips to increase peaceful coexistence in your family.
1. Accept negative feelings
Anger, envy and even temporary hatred are normal, real feelings experienced between siblings. Respond to these outbursts by first acknowledging you can understand how he could feel that way – and that you accept it. You can suggest solutions after your child has calmed down.
2. Alone time with you
Spend some time completely alone with each child on a regular basis. Plan an activity for the just two of you, or just sit and snuggle. Whatever you do together, give that child your undivided attention – and really listen to her.
3. Individual recognition
Be ready with praise for individual achievements. All family members should behave this way. Every child does something well, so celebrate even small accomplishments.
4. Family sharing
Have a designated time each day or week during which each child shares his successes and receives praise from other family members. Dinner is traditional, but if individual schedules prevent this, set aside a regular meeting time when everyone’s free, at least weekly. Teach your kids to praise each other.
5. Special spaces
Many sibling disputes are “territorial,” as one child disturbs another’s belongings or enters his space. Every child, like every adult, needs a space exclusively his, no matter how small. Everyone should respect the room, corner or desk set aside for each family member.
6. Stop teasing
Even well intentioned teasing can quickly turn into emotional abuse that deeply hurts kids. Some tease “affectionately,” but there are more direct and positive ways to show you care.
7. Forbid all physical aggression
Pushing, hitting, biting and other attacks are abuse and can escalate into actual injury. These behaviors have no place in a healthy family. Always employ non-physical solutions to disagreements.
8. Be a good role model
Treat each family member with respect. Settle disputes with fairness. Your own behavior is the best teacher of all.
9. Help kids design solutions
Show your children how to calmly settle differences on their own, keeping their focus on problem behaviors instead of personalities. Help them learn the skills of active listening and mutual compromise.
10. Both on board
Discuss and agree on a consistent approach to sibling disputes. All strategies work better when both parents react the same way.
This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2016.