Sibling Rivalry and What You can do as a Parent?
Why can’t they just get along?!
If you are a parent of more than one child, odds are that you have uttered this sentence enough number of times. As they say, having one child makes you a parent; having two turns you into a referee. From blaming and name-calling to physical fights, you would have seen it all. While some amount of sibling rivalry is to be expected, a lot, however, also depends upon how you tackle the situation. Here are some aspects to remember that will come in handy when you are seeking an answer to how to stop sibling rivalry:
Ditch the comparisons
There is no denying the fact that each child is unique with his or her own set of strengths. Yet as parents, we land up comparing one child with the other, without realizing that making comparisons between children affects them negatively. Comparisons lead to jealousy which left unchecked, leads to sibling rivalry and aggression. In fact, as per research, sibling rivalry can also lead to increased instances of depression, anxiety and unresolved anger later in life.
What you are also doing by comparing siblings is passing a message that the better performing child is preferred over the other. Now, that is a sure shot formula for reduced self-esteem that tends to play out in various ways throughout life.
On the other hand, by avoiding making comparisons, you are reducing the chances of undue competition between siblings.
The other thing to consciously avoid is the act of labeling children. What we inadvertently land up doing by labeling children is to box them into roles that they may not like themselves. These are boxes that they find hard to break out of even in later life.
It is best to create an atmosphere of teamwork where siblings root for each other’s success rather than compete amongst themselves for your approval. Consciously, therefore, when playing a game as a family, have the kids on the same team. Similarly, give them joint projects that will involve them co-operating with each other instead of indulging in sibling competition.
Be fully present
Reasons for sibling rivalry are many; however, fights are sometimes also a means to get your attention, even if negative. It is imperative therefore that you spend enough time with the kids. That really means being fully present and not just being there physically. This needs to be a time where you aren’t distracted by that ping on social media, or worry about answering that work email. It is this positive attention given to each child that will go a long way in them not having to resort to sibling wars to get your negative attention.
Conflict resolution skills
It is extremely important to endow children with conflict resolution skills so that they can work out sibling issues whenever they occur. Teaching them effective anger management skills for one will be a great enabler. From recognizing early anger cues to helping them with ways to deal with anger, there is a lot you could do. I- messaging is another tool that you can endow them with. Each time that they encounter conflict, they could express how they feel by using an I- statement; “I feel bad when you call me names because…..” This will teach the child an appropriate way to express his or her emotions that will also be well accepted by the other person. This is as opposed to beginning the sentence with “ You did this to me”, where the other person feels attacked and is automatically on the defensive. The chances of the conflict being resolved, therefore, decrease.
Do not always expect the eldest to know better
Many parents are guilty of perpetually telling the elder child to adjust simply because he or she is elder of the lot! The fact is that this can lead to an increase in resentment in the elder child. Instead, it will also help to teach the younger sibling to ask for permission before taking the elder one’s possessions, for example. Importantly, the elder child will not see you as being unfair; this perception alone sometimes can be a cause for sibling rivalry.
There are a lot of seemingly small areas that you can pay attention to. For example, sibling rivalry often inadvertently has its genesis in the arrival of the younger child who receives a stream of visitors with presents. In such cases ensure that the older child does not feel left out. You can keep small presents handy for the elder child. Also, allow the elder child to open the younger one’s presents to keep him or her involved. Small acts, such as these, help create the base for a great sibling relationship, in the future.
Be a role model
Children learn more from what they see rather than what they are told. It will help them to see you model kind behavior, therefore. Getting into fights yourself or having explosive meltdowns or resorting to name-calling when you are angry, will only help them internalize this behavior. The message that they get is that aggression is an acceptable coping mechanism. If you do land up having an outburst, it will help to apologize later and also have a conversation on how you could have handled the situation better. In fact, you could ask for suggestions from the children on what could have been done differently. There could be no better coachable moment than this to help the children arrive at what kind of behavior is acceptable.
Praising the children when they display teamwork or can sort out conflicts themselves goes a long way in re-enforcing positive behavior. Essentially do not give them attention only when they take to fighting.
Make it a point also to spend time alone with each of the kids, doing activities they love. These times will help you bond and will help the child reach out to you and talk to you about issues, as and when they face them.
Do not judge
It is important that when a child comes and talks to you about what they are facing with their sibling, you hear them out without judging them. That said try not to jump into solving the issue without giving enough time to the siblings to resolve it themselves or without hearing both sides of the argument. Of course, if you see the argument going out of hand or if a physical fight erupts, you need to step in immediately. If there are issues that the children routinely fight about, you could also help them devise a solution well in advance. For example, if they war about gadgets, you could help create a schedule that they could follow. This will automatically reduce instances of infighting.
Set the ground rules
The answer to how to handle sibling conflict also lies in setting the ground rules early. So you can make it amply clear that name-calling or hitting is beyond bounds. Also, the consequences of breaking these rules must be communicated. Having set a rule you need to also implement the consequences if it is broken, else the child will not take you seriously. Needless to mention that the consequences need to be age-appropriate! What will work for toddlers will not work for a pre-teen and so on. Sometimes though in the heat of the moment parents tend to make undue threats, which are hard to execute. That only results in reducing your credibility in the child’s eyes. Ensure, therefore, that you say things that are appropriate to the situation and implementable.
It is also prudent to set up a system of calling for family meetings every week. This can be that democratic space where everyone speaks about the good and bad events of the week gone by. Everyone should be encouraged to help arrive at solutions so that issues do not recur. This will lay the foundation for a lifetime of much-needed conflict resolution skills. Done well, these meetings can be a great source of fostering camaraderie and an answer to your question on how to cope with sibling rivalry.
That said, do remember that some amount of sibling rivalry is not only to be expected but is even healthy. Therefore do not set unrealistic benchmarks for the children as also for yourself! This realization will also help you cope with sibling rivalry, far better.