Sibling Rivalry – What can parents do to maintain peace?

The green-eyed monster got a grip onto my children.  

I have one son and two daughters.  I believe their focus was to make each other miserable.  The fighting between them seemed endless.  

What was wrong with my parenting that created such sibling rivalry and made my children so angry with each other?

Most of us are unprepared for the onslaught of sibling rivalry.

However, sibling rivalry has lots of company.  

We all think having a brother or a sister for our child is a good thing. I wanted my son to have a brother or sister so he could have someone to play with him.  I had a sister for my son, and he hated her. He wanted to give her back.  

Yikes.  What now?  Everything that brother has, sister wants.  

When I was younger, I had a brother who used to hold me down and put bugs in my face.  I was scared to death of bugs and he knew how angry this made me.  He would laugh as he pinned me down and dangled that insect right above my face. 

My mother used to say, “If you wouldn’t react, he wouldn’t do it.”  However, I would always react. I was scared.

If you would like to help your child be less reactive, check out these tools. We have teamed up with Mellisa Dormoy to provide parents with some tools to help their children with impulse regulation. 

When my two brothers and I were little, I was closer to the brother closest in age to me than the other brother (who was the oldest brother).  We were all only a year apart.  

My parents would leave us home alone to go and hang out with their friends down the street.  We were only 7, 6, and 5 years old. I’m a bit mortified now knowing they left us when we were that young.

While they were gone, they put my oldest brother in charge.  My brother and I would gang up on my oldest brother.  We would throw something at him and run up to the room and place our feet on the bed and brace our back against the door as he pounded on the door trying to push it open for retaliation.  We would be laughing as he was screaming at us through the door.  

We were so mean to him and looking back, I feel awful about that.  

What creates such anger between siblings?

We as parents may be contributing to our children’s sibling rivalry.  As parents, we need to create a fair environment.  

There are things we can do as parents to help reduce sibling rivalry.

We don’t want to label our children, i.e., the problem child or the star athlete.  Let our children know that fair doesn’t mean equal.

And, we certainly don’t want to play favorites.  

When our children get in a tussle, we don’t want to look for the aggressor and the victim.

We don’t want to let our children put us in a referee role or the role of a detective in the game of who started it.  

Amy McCready, parenting expert says

“The trouble is, when we shower the ‘victim’ with attention and ‘poor baby’s, we send a clear signal that acting as the weaker player in the argument (true or not) will garner attention. Meanwhile, the ‘aggressor’ gets the green light that there is power in the bully- and that behavior gets put on repeat as well.” 

In her book I Love You the Purplest”, Barbara Jossee, a best-selling author, talks about sibling rivalry in a kind and loving way.

If you are looking for a heart-warming story for kids to hear as well as ways to talk to your children in a unique way (instead of generically telling them they’re the “best”), this book is for you.

Also, enjoy our talk with Barbara on the topic of Sibling Rivalry

Remain Calm and Role-Model How to Behave

It’s normal to get angry when our children are hitting or yelling at each other.  

However, remain calm.  Anger fuels the power struggle.  

If a parent raises his voice, the children will shoot it right back, “He started it.” “He took it from me.” When these accusations start, it is hard as a parent not to get in the detective mode of, “Who started it?”  

We need to be the calm in the storm. 

We need to role-model how to behave when someone is upset.  

Don’t judge. Instead, make an observation,Wow it looks like you are having a hard time getting along.”

You can ask them to move away from each other and calm down. Your energy will set the mood.

Make Sure Everyone is Okay

Now it’s time to make sure everyone is okay.  

If there was a physical altercation, you want to make sure there are no injuries and if there are, the cuts may need to be bandaged.

While bandaging up any battle wounds, we don’t want to place blame on the person who played the role of “bully” nor do we want to say, “poor baby” to the victim.  

Give the child bi-partisan medical treatment so we don’t encourage the victim or the bully roles. 

Now you would want to calm things down by having them take some deep breaths or watch a calm show.  They may need some calm music.  Whatever you can do that you know will de-escalate the situation, do it.

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Don’t Take Sides

Now, you may want to move forward to practice some conflict resolution skills.

Although, you want to make sure everyone is calm before you try to teach any resolution skills. Anger shuts down the thinking skills.

If your children aren’t used to you having an observational stance instead of an angry response, it will take some time for them to get used to the new you.  

Stay the course and be consistent.  You will earn their respect.  And, it takes time to earn their respect.  

Time for a Solution

A sport’s announcer calls the shots and doesn’t place judgment, issue a verdict, or place blame.  

The parent is a sports announcer. The sports announcer uses phrases like, “I see your brother made you sad when he took your toy away.”  

Encourage your children to use “I feel hurt when … ” or “I feel sad when…” statements.  This encourages children to use facts and to let us know how certain behaviors made them feel.  

If the aftermath of a fight turns into a blame game, it’s impossible to have peace.  

When children are taught to express how they feel, it is hard for anyone to say, “No, you didn’t feel that way.” 

The sportscaster remains neutral. Let the children express their frustrations without blaming each other and simply moderate the discussion.  If things heat up, take a break and come back later when things are calm.

Next Time 

Once the children have aired their feelings, help the children come up with things they can do differently next time there is a fight.  

The children can learn different ways to handle big emotions.

For younger children, have each child role-play with a stuffed animal.  Help the child practice what she will do when she gets frustrated-ask for help, walk away, or state how she feels, etc.

For older children, role-playing works great.  

It works best when the parent pretends to be the kid.  Consistent practice with role-playing will help your children be more pro-active instead of reactive.  The children will be better equipped to handle a feud in the future. 

Role-Model Good Communication

A respectful home and children will show less aggression towards each other. Model kindness and respect towards the children and your spouse.

Over time, levels of aggression will decrease. 

Validate and praise your child when you see them managing their emotions well and not hitting or yelling at a sibling. 

 Point out, “You really kept your cool when you became angry with your brother. I bet that was hard.  You are really growing up nicely.”

Sibling rivalry is scary and frustrating.  As parents, you may think, “Will they ever get along?”

It isn’t easy at first, but practice helps.  With practice and consistency, the end result is more peace.  

Practice + consistency = Peace.

Here’s to more peace in your home!

P.S. I’d love to hear about your stories of sibling rivalry and strategies for dealing with them. Join our conversations in our private Facebook Group.

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