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Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is the jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers and sisters. It is a concern for almost all parents of two or more kids. Problems often start right after the birth of the second child. Sibling rivalry usually continues throughout childhood and can be very frustrating and stressful to parents. There are lots of things parents can do to help their kids get along better and work through conflicts in positive ways. Read on for tips and resources to help you keep the peace at your house.

General Causes:

  • Each child is competing to define who they are as an individual.
  • As they discover who they are, they try to find their own talents, activities, and interests.
  • They want to show that they are separate from their siblings.
  • Children feel they are getting unequal amounts of your attention, discipline, and responsiveness.
  • Children may feel their relationship with their parents is threatened by the arrival of a new baby.
  • Children who are hungry, bored or tired are more likely to become frustrated and start fights.
  • Children may not know positive ways to get attention from or start playful activities with a brother or sister, so they pick fights instead. Family dynamics play a role. For example, one child may remind a parent of a relative who was particularly difficult, and this may subconsciously influence how the parent treats that child.
  • Children often fight more in families where parents think aggression and fighting between siblings is normal and an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.
  • Not having time to share regular, enjoyable family time together (like family meals) can increase the chances of children engaging in conflict.
  • Stress in the parents' lives can decrease the amount of time and attention parents can give the children and increase sibling rivalry.
  • Stress in your children’s lives can shorten their fuses, and decrease their ability to tolerate frustration, leading to more conflict.

Dealing with it:
How parents treat their kids and react to conflict can make a big difference in how well siblings get along. It generally works better if parents keep out of most of the conflicts between children who can stand up for themselves. When parents concentrate on pinning the blame, it leaves on warrior feeling more jealous.

To a greater or lesser degree, children’s jealous squabbles come about because each would like to be favoured by the parents. When parents are quick to take sides, in the sense of trying to decide who is right and who is wrong, it encourages the children to again soon. The fight then becomes a tournament to see who can win Mum’s allegiance. Each wants to win the parents favour and see the other scolded.

If you do feel you have to break up a fight to protect life and limb or to prevent rank injustice or to simply restore quiet, it’s simply better to demand an end to the hostilities, refuse to listen to arguments, act uninterested in who is right and who is wrong (unless a flagrant foul has been committed), concentrate on what’s to be done next and let bygones be bygones. You might suggest a compromise, distraction might save the day, or the children might need to be separated and sent to neutral, separate locations.

When sibling fighting is severe and getting worse, it is often a sign that family therapy may be needed. Ask your child’s doctor. Other children who are left to take care of their younger brothers or sisters may resort to violence or threats to keep control of the situation. In these situations, you may need to put someone else in charge (e.g. a hired sitter or an adult relative) or enroll the children in an afterschool program or childcare centre.

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