If you have more than one child, you have probably experienced sibling rivalry. Maybe your kids pick on each other, fight, or constantly compete for your attention. Although sibling rivalry is normal, it can be difficult for parents to deal with. The constant fighting, yelling, and name calling can seem overwhelming. If you are dealing with sibling rivalry, there are things you can do to help ease the tension and maintain your sanity.

Why Siblings Fight

Fighting and arguing between children is a normal part of the family dynamic when you have more than one child. There are a number of reasons why fighting can occur between siblings. Feelings of jealousy and envy can lead to competition and arguments. Just like adults, children have their own moods, wants, desires and temperaments. If your child is overtired, they may pick a fight with their sibling simply because they are there. Your older child might take out their frustrations with others on their younger sibling. Children can fight with each other to get your attention. They can also get into fights when they’ve spent too much time together and need a break.

How Sibling Rivalry Can Be Helpful

Sibling rivalry is not all bad. In fact, there are many benefits as well. Disagreements between siblings creates an opportunity to learn negotiation skills and how to compromise with others. Sibling rivalry can help children increase their social skills and their ability to regulate their emotions. When siblings fight and argue, they can learn empathy, how to listen effectively, and assertiveness skills that can help them become successful adults. Although there are a number of benefits, it can still be difficult dealing with your children fighting. There are some things that you can do to help when your children fight.

1. Create Family Rules

Establishing family rules can help keep everyone on the same page. Family rules are most effective when they are clearly stated and there are consistent consequences when they are not followed. For example, if a family rule is that you treat each other with respect, and this is defined partly as not taking each other’s things without asking, consequences occur if it is broken. The consequence for a first offense could be returning the item and apologizing. Family rules help decrease sibling rivalry because the expectations and consequences of behaviors are clear to all family members.

2. Spend Time With Each Child

Spending time with each child individually can help strengthen your bond. When your children feel valued and connected to you individually, there is less of a need to vie for your attention by fighting. Planning fun activities for each child individually, taking one child with you when you run errands, or spending a few minutes with each child one at a time at bedtime are ways that you can focus your attention on each of your children separately. Having a designated time devoted to each of your children alone can decrease sibling fighting and strengthen your connection.

3. Empathize

Sometimes your children come to you when there is an issue with their brother or sister to have their feelings acknowledged and validated, not because they want you to fix it. It can be frustrating and upsetting for your child when their brother doesn’t let them have a turn on the game he is playing. Letting your child know that you understand their feelings and experience can be enough to defuse the situation. You could say something like, you sound mad at your brother and also sad. You wish he would give you a turn. This lets your child know that you get it, and helps them begin to name their feelings. It is important to know what you are feeling before you can begin to process your feelings. Responding empathically to your child models an important skill that they can then use with others, including their siblings.

4. Help Them Separate Their Feelings From Their Behaviors

Children often have a hard time separating their feelings from their behaviors. Your child could explain that they hit their brother because he wasn’t taking turns. Although you might empathize with their frustration, you probably aren’t very happy with their response. Kids should be taught that they may not be able to control what they are feeling, but they are always in control of how they react. Discussing acceptable ways to respond in situations when they are feeling frustrated and angry can help your child make better behavioral choices. For instance, you could help them find a way to use their words to describe their feelings, let them draw about it, or have them squeeze a stress ball. Learning different, more acceptable ways to respond to their feelings can help your children manage all of their relationships better.

5. Stay Out Of It

If your children are trying to work out their conflict, stay out of it. As soon as you enter the room, they will look to you to resolve things. While this may be necessary at times, the more you can let them figure it out themselves, the easier it will be for them to do this in other situations. You can ask your children if this is a situation they can handle themselves, or if they want you to intervene. This way, they know you trust them to handle it on their own, but you are there if they need your help. Of course, if they are hurting each other, you will probably want to separate them for awhile. Working out their differences enables them to learn valuable skills that they can use throughout their lives.

6. Have Them Take A Time-Out

If your children are having a difficult time working things out, you can have them take a time-out. You can send them each to a safe place and set a time when they can come back and try again. Let’s face it, siblings know how to push each other’s buttons. It isn’t uncommon for them to be playing nicely one minute and screaming at each other the next. When they are screaming, throwing things, and threatening each other, it will be quite difficult for them to come to an agreeable resolution. A time-out allows them some time to calm down so they can handle the situation differently when it is time for them to try again. 

It is possible to reestablish peace, and maintain your sanity, when dealing with sibling rivalry. However, if you are struggling with this, or the fighting is becoming violent, counseling can help. When you are able to address the fighting that occurs between your children more effectively, your entire family will experience the benefits.

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