Five Tips for Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

Help your kids get along better

sibling rivalry

Why can’t siblings just get along? Why do they have to bicker, tattle and fight constantly? How come they always want what the other one has? Does it really matter who pushed the elevator button this time? Every thing is such drama when you have more than one kid. 

As parents, we need to help our children learn to get along and we also have to help encourage a more caring and co-operative relationship between siblings. Unfortunately, the way most parents go about it is not only ineffective, but actually stimulates more fights than it fixes! 

Here are my 5 tips for ensuring you are doing the right things to reduce sibling rivalry and help your kids get along better.

  Ignore - Almost all sibling fights are really just a creative way for children to get their parent’s attention. It’s a sad truth that well behaved kids get ignored and those who misbehave get attention. Teach your children the opposite! When they play nicely, tell them how much you enjoy them getting along, so much so that you are choosing to stay and enjoy their company.  When they start treating each other badly, tell them it’s not fun for you anymore so you’re going to do something else instead.  Instruct them to come get you when they can play nicely together, and leave the room.  Do this consistently for one week and I promise you’ll notice a big improvement.  

  Put Them In The Same Boat - This is an expression that means rather than pitting them against one another, you need to group them into the same situation so they have to work together.  For example:  If two kids are fighting over a toy, they both loose the toy until they can agree on how to share it. If things get physical, send them BOTH to their rooms for a short time out.  This assures you don’t accidentally take sides and show favoritism.  It forces them to learn the benefits of getting along and sharing.

  Don’t Compare - Parents mistakenly think that they will motivate change in behaviour by comparing siblings with comments like “Jake is ready for school, why are you so slow?  Or “Grace ate her whole supper, what is your problem?  These types of comparisons don’t motivate children to keep up with their siblings. It just creates more animosity, which kills co-operation and stimulates conflict.

  Listen Without Fixing - If one child comes to you complaining about how their sibling mistreated them, took a toy without asking, or any other such complaint, listen empathetically but don’t take the bait and get pulled into their business! “Sounds like you are really upset with Zack for pushing you off the bike. You were scared and could have been hurt. Here is a hug. I am glad you are okay, but this sounds like something you need to speak to Jake about.” This re-inenforces the notion that while you are loving and caring, its is not your job to make sure your children get along. It’s their problem to deal with one another.  

  Family Meetings - To ensure that you are still able to provide parental guidance and support to all in the family, hold weekly family meetings to discuss such issues during a time of calm rather than during the time of conflict. If Jake keeps pushing his brother off his bike, and you have tried ignoring it, you have taken the bike away until the boys worked out a system on their own, and these have failed, its time to put it on the agenda for the family meeting and see if the bigger brain trust of the whole family can come up with a solution together. The meeting is NOT about blaming Jake and giving him some disciplinary action. It’s a meeting to problem solve the issue of proper bike safety.

If you’d like more of Alyson’s insights and tips on sibling relationships, be sure to watch the upcoming CBC documentary “Sibling Rivalry: Near, Dear and Dangerous” which airs  Sept 6th at 9pm on CBC Doc Zone. For a preview of the documentary and to hear an 8-minute interview with Alyson, click here. You can also see a great webisode about sibling rivalry right here on YMC.

image from Aislinn Ritchie via flickr, creative commons

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada's leading parenting experts. She is a best selling author and a regular contributor many online parenting sites as well as a columnist for Today's Parent. She is the parenting correspondent for CTV News Channel Express. You can catch Alyson every other tuesday on The Marilyn Denis Show.