Every relationship has conflict, and the relationship between brothers and sisters is no exception. If you have more than one child, you’ve probably seen sibling rivalry rear its ugly head at some point. And, whether in the form of yelling, slamming doors, or even physical altercations, sparring siblings can be downright stressful for everyone in the home.
But is sibling rivalry something to worry about? And, more importantly, can these tumultuous relationships eventually transform in to loving and respectful bonds? Fortunately, there are a few strategies that parents can implement to help their kids get along better and even navigate conflicts in positive, healthy ways.
Don’t Play Referee
While constant arguing between siblings can be mentally exhausting for parents, keep in mind that disagreements between kids teach important life skills, such as communicating effectively and resolving differences. But when should parents intervene and how can they put an end to disagreements without taking sides? Experts suggest parents avoid playing referee and, instead, encourage children to settle their own battles. "When parents intervene in an authoritarian way, kids end up fighting more," says Susan McHale, professor of human development at Penn State University to Family Circle. "They never learn to resolve conflict on their own—with each other or with others in their lives," she adds.
Fit in One-on-One Time
Every child yearns for that special alone time with their parents, especially when other siblings are also vying for mom and dad’s attention.
Carve out time to share special activities with each child that reflects their unique interests.
Ask them to tell you some positive things their sibling does and what are some things that might annoy them. This gives each child a chance to vent and helps you keep tabs on their relationships.
Don’t Force Sharing
Sharing means caring, right? That’s not always the case when it comes to sibling rivalry. In fact, experts advise that forcing kids to share their favorite things may undermine feelings of security and cause resentment between siblings. "It's crucial that kids have some things that are off limits, especially to older brothers or sisters," says Anastasia Gavalas, author of Wing It: 6 Simple Steps to Succeed as a Modern Day Parent. Have your kids fill a basket of toys that are just for them and set up separate play areas. Giving them some control over their belongings will help everyone feel less competitive.
Encourage Bonding Time
One of the simplest ways to nurture relationships between siblings is to assure they spend quality time together. This is especially important if there is a large age gap between children (since it’s likely they have very different interests). If your kids draw a blank on what to do together, you can suggest activities where they are required to work together. For example, set up a special art project to do, have them write a letter to a loved one together or plan a scavenger hunt where they must work as a team.
No one likes to be compared to others, and kids are no exception. In fact, experts say comparing your children's abilities with their siblings can make them feel hurt and insecure. Avoid discussing the differences between children in front of them and make it a point to celebrate individual successes as a family. “Children don’t need to be treated equally, they need to be treated uniquely,” explain authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in their book Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too.
Set a Good Example
Children often ‘do as they see’ as much as they ‘do as they’re told’, making it important to examine the example you’re setting as a parent. Are you in competition with your adult siblings or friends? Do you and your partner demonstrate conflict resolution in a healthy way? Take some time to reflect on your own actions and be better prepared to show your children how to get through sibling rivalry and emerge as best of friends.