For anyone who comes from a family of multiple children, you know that rivalry with your siblings is inevitable at some point during the years you are all under one roof. It’s normal that siblings might be very different and everything one does might be incredibly frustrating to another. Honestly, they are vying over the attention of one or both parents and sometimes feel like the only way to get it is to cause a scene. The examples are endless, a younger sister or brother is always getting off easy or is seemingly favored, or the oldest is the smartest and it’s impossible to follow in their footsteps. The feeling of being treated unfairly starts to build and if left unchecked turns into anger. Many families notice the ramp up of bitterness in one child or both, but ignore it hoping that the kids will get over it. This is a mistake because the feelings may get swept under the rug for now, but will eventually come out again with even more intensity. Research shows that kids who are allowed to fight and have negative relationships, generally take this with them into adulthood.
Rivalry and jealousy are feelings that we all have throughout our lives. As parents, the best thing we can do for our kids is to teach them how to handle the anger and negative feelings that come along with these emotions. Some common parenting mistakes that can contribute to the escalation of the fighting include taking sides and/or only paying attention when the arguments begin.
Instead, here are some quick tips for parents to take into consideration to be proactive or diffuse sibling rivalary situations:
1. Get involved as you notice the anger building. Hold family meetings to talk to your kids about the teasing, hostile words, or physically aggressive behavior you are witnessing. These regularly planned get togethers also give a child a chance to voice his/her feelings about how they are being treated. Give them advice on how to handle situations that are bothering them in more appropriate ways.
2. Teach them healthy responses when they are in the moment. These include walking away and taking a time-out from the situation to think things through before responding, taking deep breaths and counting to ten, and/or getting an adult to intervene. Anger management classes are available specifically geared towards adolescents to teach them anger control techniques they can use throughout their life.
3. If they’ve already lost it, there’s no point in trying to reason with them. At this point they can’t think logically, so wait until they calm down to have the discussion.
4. Don’t choose who is right and who is wrong. Hold both kids responsible or you might just perpetuate the “victim’s” angry feelings. Realistically, one child might start the argument but the other is participating and contributing to it as well.
5. Promote empathy. Help your children to understand the other’s point of view. For example, explain to your soccer champion that flaunting his trophy wildly in his brother’s face might make his brother feel like an underachiever or that he’s not as talented.
5. Come up with a family plan so your kids know what is expected of them. Children thrive with boundaries and limits. Explain clearly how you expect them to relate to one another and what constitutes punishment. If they hit the limit of bad behavior, follow through with the repercussions you’ve decided on.
6. Try not to compare. Praise children equally, based on their own abilities, not in relation to that of a sibling. Comparisons only promote hostility and jealousy.
Unlike friends, siblings are forever. Promoting a sense of teamwork and support of each other will help to reduce rivalry and create a strong foundation into adulthood.