Parents: How to deal with sibling rivalry
The bond between a sibling is unimaginable. Siblings love to hate each other, but they still can’t imagine life without each other. They annoy one another, know all their strengths and weaknesses and are usually their first best friends.
But for parents, sibling rivalry can be frustrating and energy-consuming. The bickering and fighting can start in the household before the second child is even born and can continue all throughout their lives. And the fighting can happen for a number of reasons including parental attention, toys or even challenging parents about getting equal share of limited family resources like the bathroom or the video game device.
But for parents, it’s hard to know when kids should work out their problems on their own and when it’s necessary to step in and play referee.
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a child psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., says that sibling rivalry is normal. It becomes a cause for concern when one child bullies or dominates the other.
“Sibling rivalry is a normal part of life and exits to varying degrees in households with more than one child,” says Dr. Roberts. “While it’s difficult to say when the fighting becomes a ‘problem,’ it becomes an issue when the relationship between siblings turns into dislike or even hate for one another causing psychological distress, diminished self-confidence or causing emotional/behavioral problems for one another.
As a parent, if you’re experiencing normal rivalry with your kids and want to find some peace in your household, Dr. Roberts offers the following tips:
- Set boundaries: Parents need to approach the situation by setting limits on the negative and bolstering the positive behavior. To do that, parents need to set ground rules for unacceptable behavior and promote cooperative, kind behavior by acknowledging children when they are well-behaved. This can include giving kids privileges like more time with playing video games or watching TV or rewarding kids with a special outing together.
- Spend quality time together: Plan fun family activities. Reinforcing the importance of family cohesiveness and collaboration is important for relationships with all family members. This can include eating family meals together or having family meetings to check-in about what’s going on. Families can also play games together or do fun activities that encourage children to work as a team.
- One-on-one attention: By increasing individual praise and encouragement for each child, parents may be able to decrease the attention seeking and insecurity that may be associated with sibling rivalry. Help develop your kids’ uniqueness by recognizing their positive attributes and talents and celebrate their individual differences. Also try to balance that with emphasizing the message that more than one child can be good at the same thing such as sports or school.
- Have an open dialogue: Most importantly, talk to children about their behavior and stress your expectations for interactions with one another. Have an honest conversation with your kids about feelings of jealousy or insecurity. This can go a long way in dealing with a deeper issue at stake. Also encourage support for one another and give concrete example of what that looks like. Remember that this type of conversation will only work in a calm, peaceful environment, not when you are responding to a conflict.
“In general, it’s important to be aware and mindful of children’s feelings, self-esteem, confidence and relationships,” says Dr. Roberts. “If you sense that your child or family is struggling beyond typical sibling rivalry, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.