11 Tips to Soothe Sibling Rivalry

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If you have more than one child, or are a sibling yourself, you are more than likely aware that arguing, bickering or physically tormenting a brother or sister is simply part of the package. But, did you know that as a parent your reaction to your own children’s squabbling can contribute to sibling rivalry that may affect their relationships in negative ways for many years to come?

As parents we want nothing but the best for our children. Many of us who have more than one child may have even fantasized during pregnancy about what great friends and playmates our children would be, and that as adults they would be closest of friends. It is understandable that when our children are hurting each other’s feelings, or physically pounding on one other that we can become impatient, or even enraged by this behavior. What good does that do anyone?

Listed here are 11 tips for soothing sibling rivalry in your home. Give one or more of them a try—You’ll be glad you did!

  1. Accept sibling rivalry—we don’t all get along one hundred percent of the time and neither will our kids. Understanding that the occasional or even more frequent spat is normal and expected will help you keep your patience.
  2. Consider the age of the siblings— children at varying developmental levels have different needs. Do what you can to set up the environment so that each child get’s his or her needs met, and spend special time with each of your children individually.
  3. Allow feelings to be expressed. We don’t like to hear negative feelings, but let’s face it we all have them, and allowing them to be expressed will give you the opportunity to teach your children how to express their negative feelings in an appropriate manner.
  4. Don’t react without taking a moment to decide how and why you are going to intervene. Being mindful about why it is you are getting involved and being very clear about your desired outcome is paramount in helping children resolve their conflicts.
  5. Emotionally distance yourself from the conflict and stay neutral. Don’t choose sides or make comparisons. By maintaining neutrality you are able to validate and empathize with each child giving them the opportunity to express themselves and focus on solutions to the problem.
  6. Assist in bridging the gap in their differences by using conflict resolution skills that teach children to focus on problem solving skills.
  7. Refrain from punishing, shaming or labeling your children’s behavior—These tactics don’t teach anything about getting along with others!
  8. Model healthy relationships—the way you and your spouse or partner resolve conflicts makes a huge impact on your child’s ability to form close and meaningful relationships throughout their life.
  9. Bear it, Beat it, or Boot ‘em out! Give your children the opportunity to resolve conflicts on their own without intervening. Bear it—simply stay quiet and let them figure it out; Beat it—walk away and trust that they can resolve the problem; Boot ‘em out—send them to another room or outside and let them know you’d love them to come back and tell you how they solved their conflict.
  10. Fairness has nothing to do with it! Do not worry about everything being exactly fair. Rather, strive for equality. Each child should get what they need in time and attention from their parents.
  11. Make sure everyone’s basic needs are met. Tired, hungry or sick children don’t make the best brothers or sisters, and mommy and daddy aren’t much help if they are exhausted and overwhelmed either. Be aware of the bewitching hours in your home and plan accordingly by involving the children in other activities.

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  1. Pam

    I appreciate the tips and wonder if you have any suggestions for resources dealing with conflict resolution and problem solving?
  2. Coach Marni

    Hi, Pam, Thanks for the feedback. A great resource about sibling rivalry is the book Siblings Without Rivalry. Dealing specific with children to help them resolve their conflicts is not as difficult as it may seem. Here are the simple steps I use:

    1. Let the children know you are there to help--in a calm and reassuring voice. (It\'s necessary to make sure everyone is pretty calm at this point, if not, take the time to let everyone calm down before engaging in the following steps)
    2. Here each child\'s side of the story. As for clarification if necessary and repeat back what each child says so that you know you\'ve got it, and they feel heard.
    3. Validate and empathize with both children about how they are feeling.
    4. Ask each child what it is they would like to have happen next. (If you have very young children you may need to help give suggestions to help solve their problem, but ultimately they should decide how it is they want to solve it)
    5. Follow through with the solution they chose, and check back in to see if it\'s working for both children.

    A special note: It\'s okay for one of the children to still be upset, sad, angry etc. even after the conflict resolution has happened. Children need to learn how to deal with tough emotions too. I find it helpful to partner with that child, and continue to validate what they are experiencing and show faith that they can handle it.

    I would love to hear how this works for you, so please keep in touch!


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