Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

As a parent, how do you get your children to value each other and sort out their differences amicably? Here are some simple tips for you to help deal with sibling rivalry.

By Amrita Gracias  • 9 min read

Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

Parenting involves several challenges. And, one common challenge that most parents face is having to deal with sibling rivalry among their children. Although it is normal for siblings to experience some disagreement and opposition, intense rivalry can have long-term negative influences. So, although you dread being dragged into seemingly silly quarrels or a war of words, these conflicts between your children must be dealt with appropriately. First of all, let us see what leads to sibling rivalry.

Common reasons for rivalry between siblings

  • Clash of personalities
  • Jealousy – vying for parents’ attention
  • Inequality – feeling that one is given preferential treatment over the other
  • Need for personal space
  • Competing with each other on various aspects
  • Different ages and different needs

How parents can deal with sibling rivalry

When you are forced to deal with the constant bickering between your children, you feel helpless and it can be stressful for you too. So, how do you deal with this issue and inspire your children to share a more loving bond? Ms Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and Head – Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle, says that most often children feel that their parents’ reactions to conflict situations don’t really help or support them. She explains that rather than being a judge of the situation, parents should come up with alternatives to see how best the situation can be handled. “Empower your children to problem-solve rather than solving their problems all the time,” she says.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts from Ms Arundhati that will help parents deal with sibling rivalry among their children:

For preschoolers:

  • Do continue to give your preschooler a lot of attention; he needs it.
  • Don’t let the arrival of a new sibling rob him of the much-needed attention he will crave.
  • Don’t ignore the older one’s need; he will begin to feel less important and can turn either passive aggressive or overtly aggressive towards his new sibling.

For primary schoolers:

  • Do give both equal attention. Avoid differential treatment between them; be fair and firm with both.
  • Don’t make comparisons between siblings. Comparisons only discourage a child further rather than offering encouragement.
  • Don’t be over-indulgent with your younger child, which is the case often. This way, the younger ones get away with bullying or getting the older sibling into trouble, giving rise to intense sibling rivalry.

For tweens:

  • Do try your best to arbitrate as fairly as possible, when one complains about the other.
  • At this age, children are developing their own routine with activities that interest them. Your younger one will want to imitate his older sibling and even want the same things he has. Don’t encourage this as your older one will begin to resent his younger sibling leading to frequent quarrels and ill feelings.
  • Don’t label either of your children negatively. Else, these labels can be used by the other child as well, giving rise to more hatred and hostility between the two.

For teenagers:

  • The younger one might tend to intrude into his sibling’s personal space, perhaps by trying to befriend his sibling’s friends. It is important that your older child enjoys the space he needs with his friends, activities and other interests. Do make your younger child understand this.
  • It is fair that your older child enjoys certain privileges. Do explain to both why this has to be so.
  • There might be ‘self-perceived’ pressure on either one to ‘perform’ or ‘achieve’ as the other sibling. Do encourage your children to find their own talents.
  • Sometimes, teens may have body image issues. This can lead to jealousy towards the sibling who seems to be more ‘attractive’. Do make both understand that they are equally special.
  • Don’t expect your older child to take on an adult role and be responsible for the younger one.

Other pointers for parents

It certainly is no easy task dealing with bickering children. Often, the situation worsens owing to some common mistakes we make, which causes a child to have low confidence and self-esteem and in turn escalates the enmity. She explains that sometimes parents also tend to give one child preferential treatment over the other. “Sometimes, even gender biases can lead to rivalry. Or, just being more emotionally, physically or verbally expressive towards one child more than the other. Also, often enough, the older child never receives the right support,” she says. She explains that parents must be consistent and fair and should negotiate diplomatically in instances of dissension. In cases where parents are in conflict between themselves, they look to the children for support. “By drawing children into their own conflict, parents establish a subtle or obvious partnership with the children to support themselves, and this conflict spills over to the children,” she adds.

In fact, a great way to get siblings to be more tolerant of each other is to find ways wherein they can both have fun together. In the book, ‘The Whole-Brain Child’ by Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson (2011), Dr Siegel says that sibling rivalry can be balanced out when enjoyment together is greater than the conflict between them, and this strengthens their bond.

In some cases, one child might have special needs and, hence, will require extra attention. In such circumstances, explain to the sibling the condition and its severity. Else, he would be clueless about why his sibling is receiving all the extra attention. Help him understand how you can help and support each other.

Although your children’s disputes and differences are good learning experiences for problem-solving and interpersonal relationship skills, do insist that they make an effort to value each other and be more caring of each other!

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