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Coping with sibling rivalry

“Having one child makes you a parent; having two, you are a referee”.

Not only have most parents heard this quote, a large part of their parenting journey seems to be spent in the throes of sibling rivalry. Anger, helplessness and disappointment are often therefore, the by products of dealing with sibling issues on a day on day basis.

Even before one delves into some of the coping mechanisms to deal with sibling resentment and conflict, it is important to have a fair understanding of the following:

  • While parents worry about the fact that their children lack empathy or that the constant bickering can impact their self esteem, some amount of sibling rivalry is inevitable.
  • Although sibling rivalry and hatred is seen to be a totally negative emotion, there are some important life skills that accrue as an effect of sibling rivalry. These life skills range from learning to be assertive, to learning to manage conflicts as also to deal with power struggles and more.

Having said that, too much resentment and hatred of course goes on to take a toll not just on the children but also the entire family dynamics. It is therefore important to learn some specific skills to handle the issue. Ever so often our means of resolution of sibling rivalry, consciously or unconsciously is based on how our own parents dealt with this issue between our siblings and us. If you take a step back you can even hear their echo in the sentences that you choose in dealing with sibling rivalry- be it  “ work it out yourselves” or  “ I don’t care who started it.” The fact is if you do not have a well thought out strategy you are likely to either feel at a loss when such a situation occurs or fall back to old patterns, whether or not they are too effective. Here are some resolution tips that can come in handy and allow you to offer an effective response:

  • Traffic light– Often the parent’s dilemma is when to intervene during a conflict between siblings. A thumb rule is to follow the traffic light dynamics. So when the light is green, which means there is minor leg pulling, name calling minor sibling resentment, it is best for the parent to stay out of it and let the children resolve their own issue. After all much as you do not want sibling hatred, you also want them to develop a bond amongst themselves, which isn’t affected by your presence or absence. When the light turns yellow however, which is when decibel levels start to go up and there are threats of danger, it calls for a mild intervention. However intervention at this stage does not need to mean your playing judge. It will help if you can just reflect each child’s point of view, for them to see the other person’s viewpoint. When the light turns red, that is where the situation can lead to physical or emotional harm, it is then that as a parent you need to step in. Not only do you need to separate the children, but also assuming that you have set some ground rules and their consequences, you have to allow them to kick in.
  • Setting rules and consequences– Speaking of rules, it is the most important piece in handling sibling rivalry. It is important to set some ground rules that are absolutely non- negotiable. It is as imperative to also spell out the likely consequences of breaking these rules and having laid them down to follow them through.
  • Teaching the children models of conflict resolution– This perhaps may be the biggest life skill that you may equip them with. One of the models that works well in conflict resolution is to do with using  “I Statements”. So in a conflict, instead of saying “you did this”, it always works better to say “ I feel ( the emotion)…..when (the situation)….because ( the effect)…..”. This immediately enables the other person to look at things from your point of view.

However other than teaching these models theoretically, you need to model them in your own life. So if the children see you practicing an effective conflict resolution model in life, chances are that they will internalize it too.

Here is to not hoping for a sibling rivalry free parenting journey, but to master some techniques that do not turn you into that proverbial referee!

Post Author: Raj Singhal