Dealing with sibling rivalry

>>Here is my question for you if you have time to answer it:  How do you handle sibling rivalry?  Your kids sound so amazing, like they always get along and are all best friends.  Do you ever have issues with fighting?<<

For some reason, it seems alot of people assume this about my kids, but I don’t know why – I’ve even had people tell me that they don’t look as if they ever fight, that they’re ‘such angels I can’t imagine it’.  LOL.  Kids are kids, and though the kids do get along well for the majority of the time and I love it that they are good friends, it’s inevitable that there are going to sometimes be personality conflicts and disagreements. 

 We’ve been able to keep this pretty mild for the most part, and I think that keeping this particular aspect of child raising under control is a huge part of why I enjoy having a big family and would love more kids.  Dealing with constant sibling squabbles is draining and wears you down emotionally, and having more kids only exacerbates whatever the current situation is by adding more voices to the fray.  If more kids meant more screaming, fighting, and constant stress, I don’t think I’d so positively anticipate (or even want!) each new arrival.

I don’t have a perfect answer to this because I still have my moments of irritation and so do the kids, but I’ll share what we do (and maybe that’s enough, to know that you can get good results without being perfect!).  First of all, I definitely encourage my kids to be friends.  I stress relationships within the family and minimize relationships outside of the family that would compete (that’s another huge topic).  It’s generally harder to be friends with your siblings than with people outside of the family, because you don’t get to choose them.  So they need time daily to learn to get along with one another; if they spend most of each day in some kind of school setting, followed by playdates, they won’t have the opportunities to get past being constantly annoyed with or provoked by their siblings.  But just being around each other all the time isn’t going to automatically make them friends.

Regarding dealing with rivalry itself:  From the time they’re born, I assume that they love each other and want to get along, and respond to anything that some people would call ‘rivalry’ or jealousy with an attitude that it’s not intended as such.  And it’s not a big deal.  It’s too easy to start looking for signs that a young child feels threatened, jealous, hateful, etc of a new baby or younger sibling, and to focus on that causes it to escalate.  When I hear mothers verbalize the negative feelings they think they very young child is feeling (‘oh, you’re jealous of little Mikey because Mommy holds him all the time’), I cringe because I think it’s building up the negative way of looking at it.  We don’t need to make our kids’ negativity bigger than it is, and we can reframe it for them in a positive way.  (I’d rather say something like, ‘Aren’t you lucky that you’re so big and we can do this together; little Mikey is too tiny to have this special fun with us.’)

As they get older, when they disagree I step in to moderate the situation and guide them to appropriately resolving it, using words and not hitting.  Sometimes this has meant very long sessions of having kids sit down and really listen to one another (when they’re older) and phrase what they want to say respectfully and appropriately, which can sometimes take a lot of time when they’re feeling hostile.  If one person wrongs another, I usually insist that an apology is made (I don’t accept a sullen ‘sorry’), followed by an act to show they’re sorry.  I think action is important in creating an impression on the brain, and training a child how to handle these situations.  When they’re little, like with my toddler, there’s very little discussion – I’ll say something like ‘we don’t hit, we don’t say things like that’ and tell him to go and hug the person (which honestly isn’t always wanted but is something the other child has to tolerate for the sake of the 2 yo learning proper behavior).  When they’re in the 6 – 10 year old range, they generally have to play a game with each other or do something else together.   With the oldest kids, it’s mostly verbal disagreement and resolution.  

As far as fighting goes, I decided to have a low tolerance level for it.  In general, my approach is to respond quickly to provocative situations before they escalate.  I don’t like being a referee, and I don’t think there’s much to gain from trying to reason with kids that are already emotionally stressed out.  They just can’t hear you at that point.  And whatever you do, someone ends up feeling victimized.   So it’s really important to step in early.  I don’t believe in letting kids ‘work it out’.  If they haven’t been taught the tools to work it out, that generally results in whoever is stronger or more powerful winning. 

But that doesn’t mean that I’m constantly getting involved in every little thing.  As they get older, they become more and more able to resolve their issues appropriately without my intervention or assistance.   I’d step in immediately for children under 6 or 7.  For kids a little older, I’d be aware and listening actively to what was going on, but not necessarily saying anything unless it was necessary.  Once they’re about 11 or 12, I’ve seen from experience which kids are challenged in what ways, and trust them to resolve most things on their own unless I know it’s a situation they are still finding frustrating.  In that case, I listen and step in when I think it’s helpful (ie, when I see that their communication with one another is becoming negative or unproductive).   

I hope this is helpful.  I’ve written in generalities, so feel free to ask something more specific if I haven’t addressed your particular concern. 


7 thoughts on “Dealing with sibling rivalry

  1. Thank you….I started this blog as a way to share with others things that might be helpful for them, and it’s so gratifying to hear it is.

  2. you are amazing, and you do make it seem easy! How did you start on this? How old were the children? How do you teach them to work it out themselves? I guess it maybe easier when the chidlren are older, but how do you start preparing them for this?

  3. Simple and easy aren’t the same thing!

    Actually, it’s much, much harder to teach this when kids are older. The easiest thing is to begin the way you want to go, and continue from there. That’s why teaching your little kids to behave in the way you want them to is so crucial. But most of us don’t know how to do that when our kids are little!

    I think I answered the question in the post above- I know it was long so easy to miss something! Reread it and see if you find it. :)

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