Siblings fight for many reasons, such as jealousy, seeking attention, frustration, seeking power, need for privacy, and independence. However, most often siblings fight because they sense favoritism from parents. Here are eight tips to help reduce the sibling rivalry conflict in your house.
Yelling, threatening, or punishing can be especially dangerous with sibling rivalry because it reinforces that coercion is a way of getting what you want. Punishment will also invite a child to further resent her sibling. It will show that you are taking sides, setting siblings further apart instead of strengthening their bond.
Stay close and stop any aggression before it happens, especially when dealing with young children. This is easier said than done, but stop the hurting by gently blocking with your hands or by removing the baby or other child out of the way. Gently say, “I need to keep you both safe.”
Allow and Validate Feelings
Let your child know you understand how she feels by saying things like: I can see your sibling upsets you sometimes, You seem frustrated, or Relationships can be so hard.
Don’t Take Sides
Treat all children equally in solving conflicts. Avoid creating “the bully” and “the victim” roles in your family. At the time when you see the aggression, say, “I can see the two of you are having a hard time playing together”—even if it seems silly to say it to a baby, it shows your older child you are treating both of them the same and not taking sides). You might also say, I will have to separate the two of you or how can I help the two of you solve this?
Focus on Solutions
Go to the aggressor first and help him feel better, then ask things like: What can you do to help your sister feel better? or Let’s get her some ice, or Let’s find your brother a toy he can play with, or Maybe you can color him a picture. Helping the “aggressor” first may seem counter intuitive, and some parents think this will reward poor behavior, but remember, people don’t do better until they feel better. By helping the aggressor first, he can become part of the solution, and it will allow him to try to fix the situation and repair the relationship for himself.
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If one insists on hurting, pushing, or biting, you can decide what you will do, then follow through. Instead of using time-out or punishing, you might say to your child, “It looks like you are having a hard time not pushing children today, and I will have to keep you close to me.” Then stand next to her and hold her hand, or pick her up and hold her at the playground, or bring her next to you while you cook dinner. Once you remove your child from the situation, it’s a good idea to say to her, “Let me know when you feel ready to try again without hurting.”
Guide Your Child Toward More Appropriate Behavior
Channel the child’s feeling toward a more appropriate and productive behavior. Offer a chance to let the feelings and energy out by giving him a pillow to scratch, punch, or push, or a ball to kick, or an almond to bite on, for example. You can also give him some other alternatives to aggression such as walking away, using their words, or asking for help from an adult.
Stop Being the Referee
Depending on the situation (when safe) you might come in and say: I trust you can figure this out on your own, or Do you need my help solving this problem? or I cannot make you stop fighting, and I need your help. If you fear aggression, separate your children and allow a “cool-off” period before conflict resolution by saying “It looks like you need some time away from each other.”
Other general principles and tools that help prevent sibling rivalry include encouraging cooperation, not competition; avoiding comparing children; not making a fuss over baby in front older children; and making sure every child gets special one-on-one time alone with you and with your spouse.
How to Foster Strong Sibling Bonds
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