Sibling Rivalry

Below we present some parenting tools that we hope will help you handle normal sibling rivalry in a way that enhances your relationship with your children as well as enhancing their relationships with each other. The following recommendations are from “Siblings without Rivalry“, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. We’ve presented some highlights, but if sibling rivalry is a challenge for you, we highly recommend reading the book. So, what causes sibling rivalry and how can you help your kids get along better?

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CAUSES OF SIBLING RIVALRY?

· Family position. For example an oldest child may feel burdened by responsibilities for the younger children and the young child spends his/her life trying to catch up to the older sibling.
· Sex. For instance, a son may “hate” his sister because his father is gentler with her. On the other hand, the daughter may wish she could go hunting or fishing with her father and brother.
· Age. For example a five and eight year old can play some games together but as children grow up sometimes they grow further apart due to different interests.

HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR KIDS GET ALONG?

Siblings need to have their feelings about each other acknowledged.

· Use words that identify the feeling: “you sound furious!”
· With wishes: “you wish he’d ask before using your things”
· With symbolic or creative activity: “How would you feel about making a ‘Private Property’ sign your room.”

Children need to have their hurtful actions stopped and be shown how to discharge angry feelings acceptably.

· Parent: “Hold it! People are not for hurting!” then “Tell him how angry you are. Tell him, ‘I don’t want you using my things without my permission!’
· Resist the urge to compare: Instead of comparing one child unfavorably to another speak to the child only about the behavior that displeases you.

· Describe what you see: “I see a brand new jacket on the floor”
· Describe what you feel: “That bothers me”
· Describe what needs to be done: “This jacket belongs in the closet”

Don’t treat your children equally, treat them uniquely.

· Instead of giving equal amounts: “Here, now you have just as many grapes as your sister.”
· Give according to individual need: “Do you want a few grapes or a big bunch.”
· Instead of showing equal love: “I love you the same as your sister.”
· Show the child he or she is loved uniquely: “You are the only ‘you’ in the world. No one could ever take your place.”

Children with disabilities do not need to be viewed as “disabled” children.

They do need:

· Acceptance of their frustration: “This isn’t easy. It can be frustrating.”
· Appreciation for what they have accomplished, however imperfect: “You got a lot closer this time”
· Help in focusing on solutions: “This is tough. What do you do in a case like this?”

HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE FIGHTING?

Level 1: Normal Bickering

· Ignore it.
· Tell yourself the children are having an import experience in conflict/conflict resolution.

Level 2: Situation is heating up. Adult intervention may help

· Acknowledge their anger.
· Reflect each child’s point of view.
· Describe the problem with respect.
· Express confidence in the children’s ability to figure out their own solution.
· Leave the room.

Level 3: Situation possibly Dangerous

· Inquire: “Is this a play fight or a real fight”
· Let the children know: “Play fighting by mutual consent only” (if it isn’t fun for both, it must stop).
· Respect your feelings: “you may be playing, but it’s too rough for me. You need to find another activity.”

Level 4: Situation Definitely dangerous! Adult intervention is necessary.

· Describe what you see: “I see two very angry children who are about to hurt each other”
· Separate the children: “It’s not safe to be together. We must have a cooling off period. Quick, you to your room and you to yours.”

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE CHILDREN CAN NOT WORK THE PROBLEM OUT THEMSELVES?

· Call a meeting with the children. Explain the purpose and ground rules.
· Write down each child’s feeling and concerns, read them aloud.
· Allow time for rebuttal.
· Invite everyone to come up with solutions. Write down all ideas without evaluating.
· Decide upon the solutions you can live with.

HOW TO GIVE SUPPORT TO THE CHILD WHO ASKS FOR IT WITHOUT TAKING SIDES?

· State each child’s case: “Let me get this straight Jimmy, you need the crayons to finish your homework. And Amy, you want to finish coloring.”
· State the value of rule: “Homework assignments get top priority.”
· Leave the doorway open for the possibility of negotiation: “But Jimmy, if you want to work something out with your sister, that’s up to you.”