The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

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The sounds of siblings squabbling can be enough to make you want to pull your hair out, but alas, sibling rivalry is a fact of family life. Each child in a family will always vie for his or her parents’ attention and strive to be mom’s and dad’s favorite. To make your home a rivalry-free zone, follow these lists of sibling rivalry dos and don’ts.

When dealing with sibling rivalry, do:

✓ Remember your kids are individuals. Although they may share some similarities, their personalities and temperaments are wonderfully unique.
✓ Allow for differences. Encourage the differences that you see in your kids. Foster their distinctive interests and let them know they are loved for who they are.
✓ Let them say, “It’s mine.” Allowing children to have things and friends of their own helps them develop as individuals with their own unique personalities. Everyone needs something that they don’t have to share.
✓ Encourage alone time. Facilitate short “sibling free” periods for times of self-discovery.
✓ Spend one-on-one time with each child. Be proactive in spending alone time with each child. Bath time and reading can be meaningful, short activities that allow you to focus on only one child at a time.
✓ Let them work it out. Allowing your kids to work out their issues with each other will prevent your taking sides or placing blame when you don’t have all the details. If an argument escalates into physical violence, separate the children; then investigate when things have cooled down.
✓ Have realistic expectations. Siblings don’t get along all the time. Don’t force your kids to play together if they need time apart—we all do!
✓ Give positive, purposeful praise. Point out the strengths in each child and praise them when they are interacting well together.
✓ Have ground rules for behavior. Have a clear set of rules and expectations for how your children should treat each other. No hitting, no biting, no teasing, and no name-calling should lie at the foundation of your sibling relationship rules. Outlining acceptable and unacceptable behaviors will promote consistency in discipline.
✓ Spend time together as a family. This stresses the importance of unity and helps advance a team spirit.
✓ Develop a system for most wanted privileges. Having a plan of action in place when it comes to who gets to push the elevator button or who gets to sit on what side of the car will head off heated on-the-spot battles. Keep a coin in the car to toss or keep track of who did what last to settle disputes over the most coveted privileges.
✓ Let your kids express their feelings. Encourage your children to communicate their feelings. Helping your kids find the words to express their emotions gives them a sense of control. Be sure to validate feelings without validating negative behavior. “I know you are frustrated, but hands aren’t for hitting” empowers the child without condoning the behavior.
✓ Model good behavior. You reap what you sow when it comes to childhood behaviors. Model positive interactions with your spouse and your kids and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it gets mirrored back.
✓ Be fair. Hold all your children accountable for the same rules and regulations and follow through on the same consequences for any misbehavior.

When dealing with sibling rivalry, don’t:

∅ Don’t compare your kids. Recognize that comparing your kids sets the stage for their comparing themselves with each other. These seemingly innocent comparisons are at the root of sibling rivalry.
∅ Don’t use competition to motivate. Recognize the heightened sense of natural competition that already exists among siblings and don’t add to it. Have them race against a timer rather than each other when picking up toys.
∅ Don’t try to always treat them the same. If you treat your kids differently, it’s okay! They are different. Meeting each child’s unique needs is what is important. Just because Sean wore his shoes out and got a new pair doesn’t mean Jane has to if hers are perfectly fine.
∅ Don’t be concerned with who started a fight. It takes two to quarrel. Hold your kids accountable for their actions.
∅ Don’t label. Be careful not to mold your kids with your words. Labels can last a lifetime, and your kids will either live up to or down to your expectations.
∅ Don’t take sides. Be an impartial mediator and resist the urge to figure out who did what—it’s nearly impossible to figure out the blow-by-blow when you just catch the end of the match.


Michelle LaRowe, A Mom’s Ultimate Book of Lists, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, January, 2010. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved.

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