Growing up as a middle child, I experienced my fair share of sibling rivalry. My special needs brother was two years older than me and my sister was five years younger. “That’s not fair” was a common phrase in our home, along with “Why does she get to do that and I don’t?” and “He got more than I did.”
My experience is not a singular one – sibling rivalries have dotted history since the beginning of time. And yet for parents, constant jealousy, bickering, and competition between brothers and sisters can be a constant source of stress and frustration.
Any number of things can cause sibling rivalry to rear its ugly head. Feeling like another sibling is getting more attention, feeling threatened by the arrival of a new baby, or having an urge to establish identity apart from a sibling can all contribute. While it can be comforting to know sibling rivalry is normal, handling this issue in your own family can be complicated. Here are a few suggestions to help decrease conflict and competition between your children.
Avoid comparisons. Every child is unique. Saying things like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” isn’t helpful.
Seek to meet each child’s unique needs. Although you may be tempted to treat each child exactly the same, each child’s needs will probably be different. Seek to be fair, as opposed to equal. Bed times, chores, and requests for assistance will often differ by age. This is appropriate.
Don’t pit them against each other. Instead of encouraging them to race each other to clean a room, have them race the clock.
Plan alone time with each child. As little as 15 to 20 minutes of focused attention can be extremely helpful in decreasing sibling rivalry.
Celebrate camaraderie. Have you ever walked in to see your children playing nicely together, but then quietly retreated so as not to ruin the moment? Compliment them for those times. Parents are often quick to tell children when they do something wrong, but silent when they do something right. If you feel acknowledging it could open the door for things to go south, wait until dinner or bedtime to bring it up.
Don’t feel like you have to intervene in every fight. As long your children are safe, encourage them to work it out. Otherwise, they may always depend on you to referee.
Avoid playing favorites. While it can be tempting, resist the urge.