Parenting Against Sibling Rivalry
By Tina Trikha
“It’s not fair! He got to sit next to you at the restaurant last time too!”
“Why do I have to study while she gets to play with her toys? It’s not fair!”
“Mom! He deliberately poked my elbow.”
“Did not! You are such a tattletale!”
Welcome to the home of multiple children. Where in addition to parenting, you are also mediating, judging, and refereeing.
Sibling rivalry is common in households with two or more children. The level varies from minor arguments to early seeds of deep-rooted resentment, and often depends on how parents have dealt with issues and situations early in their children’s lives.
Siblings will fight over things that are most valuable to them. At a young age, the most valuable thing for children is time and attention from their parents, and that becomes the key point of comparison and competition. (When they are pre-teens, any attention from parents becomes most undesirable, and they will be more than happy to relinquish their share.) Having to share a parent’s time in the early years is hard, particularly for an older sibling who used to get undivided attention before the younger child came along.
Birth order matters greatly in sibling rivalry. While the younger feel they don’t get the same degree of responsibility and autonomy, the older ones are often aggrieved about meeting higher expectations. On my eldest son’s seventh birthday, his only wish was for an older sibling. He couldn’t understand why we were unable to grant him that wish—he was even okay with a trade-in of his younger brother for an older model.
Sibling rivalry is evident on a daily basis in our home in a variety of ways. Who ate the last scoop of ice cream? Who got more hugs from Mom? Who got to see the TV show that they wanted?
Here are some of the parenting tips that have helped me deal with those exasperating situations:
Let them sort it out by themselves.
These are their first lessons in conflict management, and they are the perfect guinea pigs for each other. My kids have been told to sort out their own arguments and only interrupt me if anyone is bleeding. Once they resolve the situation, you should check to make sure that one child isn’t always steamrolling his way through the conflicts.
Don’t compare the kids.
This one is easier said than done. Even if you and your spouse are careful to make sure you never compare your kids, there will always be some relative, teacher or friend who will point out the differences. “Wow, [name] is so much brighter/prettier/better behaved than the others.” Coming from a family of three siblings, where I rarely had any positive adjectives ascribed to me, I can tell you it hurts. Fortunately, my parents protected me by pointing out my (very) hidden strengths. Discourage comparisons of any sort between your children and highlight the unique strengths that each have.
Give them separate time outs.
This one works like a charm in our household. If they are really getting on my nerves with the whining and fighting, I make them sit in separate rooms. In a few moments, they’re calling a truce and pleading for forgiveness. Turns out, the only thing worse than having an annoying sibling in your room is not having that annoying sibling in your room!
Create disincentives for quarrels.
If they argue or fight while playing a game of cricket, I don’t say a word to them. I simply walk up and take away the bat. Then, they have nothing to fight or play over. Within five minutes, they are promising eternal love for each other in exchange for the bat.
Watch your actions and your words.
One day, after being particularly hassled by their fighting, I told my older son, “If I see you hitting your brother again, I will spank you.” A few minutes later, when the kids were out of earshot, my husband pointed out the fallacy of my argument. I was threatening to spank my child in order to teach him not to hit his brother. My parenting logic was quite convoluted!
Don’t let one of your kids bully another.
This is more likely to happen when there is either a significant size or personality difference between the siblings. Don’t allow it. Nip it in the bud as soon as you see the first signs of it. Talk to both children separately about it. Remember that aggression may be a sign that your child is bothered or insecure about something and, hence, is just as vulnerable as his sibling. Communicate to the children that in your family it is not acceptable to bully anyone else and it’s also important to be able to stand up for yourself.
Spend one-on-one time with each of your kids.
This is one of the most important things that you can do for your relationship with your kids. Carve out half an hour each week or fortnight to spend individually with each of your children. This is their special time with you. Go for a walk in the park or for an ice cream treat. You’ll be surprised with the things they share with you, including how much they actually care for their sibling!