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Sibling Rivalry: Friend or Foe

By Susan Kurlander, M.Ed.

She’s making too much noise! You gave him the last cookie! She came into my room without asking! He won’t share the new toy grandma bought! 

Sound familiar? For anyone who has more than one child, sibling rivalry can be challenging and seemingly ever present. It can manifest itself in all forms of physical and verbal behaviors—fighting, bossing, teasing, tattling, name-calling, hitting, etc. While it may be a natural part of growing up, if not dealt with, sibling rivalry can lead to unhealthy and abusive behaviors, including bullying, even into adulthood. Children want to be the recipients of their parents’ love and respect and are willing to compete with each other, even in a negative way, to that gain. 

Although not a guarantee to alleviate sibling rivalry in total, parents can make the situation more manageable by trying the following: 

  • Respect each child’s individuality. Have them be part of the decision as to what activities they want to engage in. Choose gifts for them that reflect their interests rather than giving them the same gift. 
  • Praise each child’s abilities and successes without comparing them to that of a sibling. 
  • Set boundaries for what is acceptable/not acceptable behaviors when they are interacting with each other. For example, name calling or hitting are not allowed. If one of the boundaries isn’t followed, have a consequence in place. 
  • Encourage your children to resolve their conflicts on their own. You may have to offer suggestions but let them choose what might work. If the conflict is escalating without any signs of resolution, step in if necessary. 
  • Plan opportunities for your children to share negative feelings about their siblings. The end goal is to find solutions that will improve relationships. Family meetings or a family dinner could be the non-judgmental time to do this. Set ground rules for respectful expression of feelings. 
  • Share stories about your experiences with sibling rivalry and how those situations were resolved. 
  • Create chores that they can do together. Praise them for their efforts. Encourage cooperation over competition. 
  • Role model problem solving behavior especially with other family members. 
  • Spend time alone with each child. Encourage your child to help plan the activity you will do together. 
  • Create and practice rituals and traditions that help your children appreciate the uniqueness of their family while creating memories. 
  • Create a family mission statement. Hang that statement on a kitchen wall and refer to it often giving examples of how your family is upholding that statement. 

These suggestions probably seem like so much to add to our daily challenges of raising children. Will it be worth it? Yes, say researchers. When sibling rivalry issues are addressed, children tend to grow up to be better prepared for adult relationships, to be better partners, to make better choices, to be better team members. They will become healthier grown-ups because they have grown up learning how to be grown up. 

References: 

“8 Ways to Effectively Manage Sibling Fighting Rivalry,” by Katherine Lee. (VerywellFamily, 11/16, 2020)

“Sibling Rivalry: Helping Your Children Get Along,” Mayo Clinic Staff 

Susan Kurlander

 

Susan Kurlander, M.Ed. is a Health Educator at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) is dedicated to providing programs and services that help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve their goals and enhance their wellbeing.  

To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.

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