September 3, 2011

How to Handle Family Sibling Rivalry among Children


Sibling rivalry is a normal, healthy part of life among children.  In a family, no matter how well-behaved siblings are, they will occasionally fight or argue with each other.

The severity and frequency of sibling rivalry depends on many things, including age difference, personality, age of children, and how fighting is handled by parents.


It is generally thought that the younger children are, the more rivalry there will be. Rivalry does seem to decrease as children get older. It is also thought that the closer in age the children are, the more rivalry there will be. There is generally more competitiveness between children who are close in age.



While there are many parents who do not know how to handle the rivalry among their children, there are some steps that can be taken to minimize such rivalry.


Why Sibling Rivalry Occurs

Whether siblings fight a lot or a little, there is usually no one specific cause. Rivalry occurs for a number of reasons. They differ from family to family and from sibling to sibling. Here are some common reasons why siblings fight.


1.   Status - Many siblings fight for position in the family.


2.   Attention - Many siblings fight to get their parents' attention.


3.   Ownership - Many siblings fight over belongings, friends, and parents' time. 


How to Minimize Sibling Rivalry

1.   Treat children as individuals. Parents should stress their children's unique traits and individuality and should acknowledge their individual accomplishments.


2.   Praise getting-along behaviors. Parents should catch their kids being good and should praise them for getting along. Parents should be specific in their praise, so their children know exactly what they are being praised for. For example "That's great how you're playing and getting along so well." Praise can be an excellent motivator of good behavior. Parents should be careful not to use praise as a way of comparing children. This will quickly backfire.


3.   Spend time alone with your kids. No matter how many kids there are in the family, each child needs individual attention from both parents on a regular basis. Special alone-time with kids need not be complicated. Reading, taking a walk, or running an errand are all simple ways for parents to spend special time with each of their kids. Spending time alone with each child not only cuts down on rivalry, but it also strengthens the relationship between parents and their children.


4.   Be aware of your problem-solving style. Parents should pay attention to how they get along with other adults, including their spouses. Kids learn how to handle rivalry by watching their parents. Parents should show their children appropriate ways to solve problems.


5.   Provide lots of love and affection for your kids. Parents should show their kids often that they love them through words and actions.


6.   Encourage children to spend time alone. Parents should encourage each of their children to participate in activities separate from those of other siblings.


Don'ts

1.   Don't compare kids to one another. Parents should try to avoid comparisons, even positive ones. If parents hold one child up as an example to another, they run the risk of intensifying rivalry. Comparisons may cause hurt feelings and hopelessness, too, if one child feels he or she can't or doesn't measure up.


2.   Don't take sides. Parents should try to remain neutral bystanders in sibling rivalry.  Kids often try to involve their parents in arguments with siblings as a way to gain control over the situation. Parents should try to stay out of fights between children who can stick up for themselves. The only exception is for physical fights. Parents should step in when fights become physical. They should make sure their kids know that they are not allowed to hurt each other. Stepping in, however, does not need to imply that parents are taking sides. One good way of maintaining neutrality is to simply demand an end to the hostilities and to refuse to listen to arguments and explanations.


3.   Don't overreact to sibling rivalry. Disputes are bound to happen, and kids learn how to handle disputes by watching their parents. Parents who overreact may end up reinforcing a rivalry behavior.


Sibling rivalry is a fact of life. There will always be family sibling rivalry among older children. However, parents can use these opportunities to teach their children how to resolve conflicts. This is a very important tool to have in life. Sibling rivalry has its positive side, too. In learning how to deal with rivalry, children learn how to cooperate, problem-solve, and negotiate. They will probably grow up to be more tolerant of other people, and more generous, too.

Written by Kristen Zolten, M.A. and Nicholas Long, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Artwork by Scott Snider.  You can fin her article in Center for Effective Parenting.

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