Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
Siblings rivalry is common and it is one of the biggest cause of stress for parents. Irrespective how far apart in years’ siblings are, they fight amongst each other and it is normal part of life. It has been observed by researchers that sibling rivalry generally tends to peak in middle school and wanes down during adolescent years when children are more interested in peer relationships outside home. Conflicts are likely to be more intense, if the siblings are same-gender and 1-3 years apart.
There are multiple reasons for children to fight amongst each other but the most common reasons are the need for power and attention. There is usually an intense power dynamic amongst the siblings. The job of the parent is to reduce that power differential among the children and treat them as equals, irrespective of age, gender, ability, or strength. It’s quite common in Indian culture for a boy to get more attention/power than a girl child. Similarly, the younger child gets more attention/power than the older child. These imbalances in power are created by the society and the caregivers, which increases the chances of sibling rivalry.
Here are 10 tips for parents to handle the sibling rivalry:
1. Build an equal relationship pattern - The arrival of the younger sibling is very stressful for the older child. The older child may develop feelings of envy when the younger child is taking up most of the mother’s time. Spending time with the older child during those years can go a long way to secure the bond with the older child. Each child has unique personality and a parent may like one child over the other. Avoid favoring one child over the other. Similarly, avoid making comparisons between them as it increases the insecurities in children.
2. Spend time with each child individually - No matter how old kids are, they need one to one attention of their parents. Create at least 15 minutes for quality time with each child where you give full attention and care to that child only. Set a time and an activity to do together with each child, where you can bond with each child in private. They need a sufficient dose of positive attention everyday.
3. Allow siblings to resolve conflicts amongst themselves - Children learn the skill of resolving interpersonal conflicts through sibling rivalries. The art of negotiating between personal needs vs. other person’s needs is a challenging task and it take years to become good at it. Let them figure out ways to help themselves out rather than intervening in each fight.This helps them to come up with creative problem solving skills themselves. Leave the small fights up to them to resolve, so you can focus on the big ones.
4. Listen to each child - When you do intervene in the fight, calm them down first and listen to each child. Listen not only what they are stating but also pay attention to the unexpressed needs of each child. Encourage them to state their needs in clear language to you. Teach them how they can voice themselves by using ‘I statements’ such as ‘I think…’ ‘I feel…’ ‘I want…’. Hear and validate their feelings and needs. Validating their needs is different from promising to fulfill each need. Share with your children what limitations exist due to which their needs may not be fulfilled at that moment. Give hope to them for meeting their needs later if you are 100% sure. Just don’t make false promises.
5. Set clear rules - Children need to know their limits and hence making them clear beforehand helps in reducing later meltdowns. If a new toy is coming in the house, then how much time each child is going to play and at what time, should be assigned by the parent. If one child insists on taking the first turn then, reduce the amount of time spent playing for kid who is being adamant. Stay consistent with rules and follow them. If you don’t, then they might argue more. Also, don’t be afraid of conflicts. You can use these conflicts to teach lessons about fairness, relationship skills, sharing, moral values etc.
6. Set clear boundaries - Children must know that hitting each other is not okay and there will be consequences for their actions. Make sure consequences are relevant and immediate so they know for what reasons they are being punished for. Taking away TV time one evening is a natural consequence for misbehavior. Don’t punish by yelling, threatening or hitting. Children imitate parents and your style of resolving conflicts is learned and enacted by them. If you resort to hitting to avoid distress, then the child will do so too.
7. Assign roles for the older sibling - Have the older sibling take on the role of a leader or a teacher to help the younger one to engage in cooperative play. Make sure the older one does not take on the role of the parent where they start to punish the younger sibling. Assigning appropriate and clear roles, validates the older child’s need for control and respect. Don’t punish the older child for ‘not understanding’ the needs of the younger one. You may have more expectations from your older child but they still can’t understand why the younger one gets more power, at times.
8. Diversify your roles while resolving conflicts - Parents need to wear multiple hats or roles while helping children resolve their conflicts. At times, you need to be a therapist, negotiator, jester, storyteller, or a judge. The better you get at shifting your stance of relating from one to another, faster and more effective you can get at resolving the conflicts. First try to engage and connect with your children, then ask questions and try to negotiate. Then offer alternatives or ask them to come up with alternatives. Try using humor and stories to help them understand the problem better. If that does not work, then make the final decision and announce the consequences of not following the rules.
9. Avoid blaming or shaming any child - If the fight is not getting resolved due to one child being very adamant on giving up, then pay positive attention to the other child rather than blaming or shaming the child who is being adamant. Stubbornness is usually a sign of insecurity. Shaming and blaming worsens that. By choosing to pay more positive attention to the other child, you avoid giving negative attention to the child who is being stubborn.
10. Relax and take care of yourself - Handling children’s nagging, whining, and fighting is very emotionally distressing. Create time to just take care of yourself. If you forget self-care, then frustrations build-up quickly which may get displaced on your children. And when they are fighting, that’s the time when you feel most righteous to express your disappointments.