Published On: Sat, Feb 9th, 2013

What You Need To Know To Stop Sibling Rivalry

What You Need To Know To Stop Sibling RivalryWhen we were dating my husband and I talked about our dreams and what kind of life we would like to have. It definitely involved marriage and starting a family. We spoke about where we would live, what kind of house we liked, and how many children we would like to have. What we never did discuss was this: what we would do if our children fought. We didn’t discuss how to handle 2 children yelling over who gets to push the button in the elevator or what to do if the juice in their cups was not exactly, precisely even. We surely did not discuss what we would do if they both wanted the same toy at the same time in the park where we were all on public display. We were floored by the intensity of our children’s feelings and the need they had to push each other’s buttons. Our hopes of a happy, peaceful home in a house in the suburbs seemed to be dashed.

After reading all the parenting books we came to the realisation that fighting between siblings is normal and even can be healthy. Most people fought (including my husband and I) with their own siblings when they were growing up. However, we still have idealized visions of what a family should be like. This may stem from TV shows, like “Leave It To Beaver” or the “Waltons.”

Most experts agree, families rarely have perpetual peace. Every family has to deal with conflict. It is one of the drawbacks of living with other people. The members of the happiest families will admit that they can get annoyed with their spouses and children.  It is tough to get along with the people we live with.

Once we come to terms with the fact that the bickering, feuding, yelling, and fighting are normal we can then move forward to help our kids manage their toughest relationship. The best help we can give our children is to drop the role of judge and just reflect feelings.

When siblings fight, parents will act as a referee and say, “If you can’t share no one is getting the toy.” “He was playing with it first so he gets it” or “How would you like it if someone took your toy?” Children become defensive and then they feel like they need to fight even more.

Instead parents need to their children’s feelings. Kids are then able to  think clearly. It also helps them see the problem from their sibling’s perspective. Validating feelings also helps parents actually see both sides of the story and helps keep the parent calm instead of yelling and accusing. We can also gently suggest that they think of solutions on how to get along.

Here are some examples of how this can work:

1.”I didn’t do anything” 
Instead of Judging:  “If you didn’t do anything then why is he crying? You need to stop bothering him!”
Do say: “You are not sure what happened to get him upset…” “You feel like you weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. What can you guys do to fix this problem?”

2. “He always starts with me!” 
Instead of Judging: “Well if you started it, you need to go to your room!”
Do Say:  “It sounds as if you guys are angry at each other. That sometimes happens when people disagree. Are you guys ready to think of some solutions or are you still too mad? “

3. “She always makes a mountain out of a molehill. It is not a big deal!”
Instead of Judging: ” You guys are always fighting. You need to stop it right now!”
Do Say: ” You feel like this is a fight I should not get involved in. It seems to me that Tara wants me to get involved; she does not feel like it is nothing. What can we do? It is so hard to get along sometimes!”

4. “What a crybaby! She cries from nothing!”
Instead of Judging: “You need to stop making her cry. You need to be nicer!”
Do Say: ” You feel that she should toughen up more. It seems to you that she gets upset by little things. If you are ready to listen I can tell you about sensitive people and people  who have thick skins. It is important to learn  how to handle both types of people.”

5. “Everything I do is wrong!”
Instead of Judging: “If you would listen to me and be nice you wouldn’t have that problem!”
Do Say: “That can hurt to feel that way- you want to know how you can get along better with the family. Let’s think of ways that we can do that.”

6. “She always gets to go first!”
Instead of Judging: “Okay, you will get to go first, next time.”
Do Say: “It seems to you that she gets to go before you. You would like to go first sometimes to. You can say to Caitlin, next time I want a turn to go first.”

We are all aware of the challenges parents have in raising siblings. It is not easy being a parent when your kids are fighting. Parents who recognise that conflict is normal and can accept their children’s feelings will have an easier time.

By Adina Soclof

For more great tips on managing sibling rivalry join our workshops at Adina Soclof, a certified Speech Pathologist, received her masters degree from Hunter College in New York in Communication Sciences. Adina worked as a Speech Pathologist in preschools for the developmentally disabled in the New York area before staying home full time with her family. She re-entered the workforce as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” workshops as well as workshops based on “Siblings Without Rivalry” and “Raising a Spirited Child”. She has been featured at numerous non profit organizations and private schools in Cleveland. Adina developed TEAM Communication Ventures and conducts parenting, teacher and clinician workshops via telephone nationwide. You can visit her website at Adina lives with her husband & 4 lively children in Cleveland, Ohio.

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