Sibling rivalry is common in families with more than one child. Many parents may view sibling rivalry as “typical” behavior that they hope will improve over time. The question then becomes, at what point does sibling rivalry start going too far?
There are many reasons children argue with one another. Arguments can be triggered by something as simple as boredom. In fact, our office has heard many stories about children who have walked by their sibling and pushed, shoved or called their sibling a mean name, all because they were bored.
Unfortunately, sibling rivalry can easily escalate to a degree much worse than just teasing and mild disagreements. This can lead to children becoming emotionally damaged or physically injured, which could lead to bigger issues in the future.
How can you tell if your kids’ squabbling has crossed the line? If children are arguing with damaging comments, such as teasing a sibling about a disability or major disappointment in their life, that is not okay. Another red flag is when siblings begin fighting to the point of physical altercations. When a child is actively preoccupied with protecting themselves, demonstrating negative behavior and feelings towards their sibling, or demonstrating submissive behavior, these are all warning signs that the relationship needs help.
It is important to remember that while placid sibling competition is common, it can easily progress to a point that creates serious problems for families. As parents, it can be hard to know what to do about it. Therefore, consider these tips in order to prevent sibling rivalry from going too far:
- Spend time with each of your children one-on-one. Even though it may not always be easy, make sure you spend equal alone time with each child to avoid jealousy.
- Avoid comparing your children. In other words, avoid statements like, “Your brother’s grades are much better than yours” or “why can’t you be more like your sister?”
- Praise each of your children’s unique strengths and talents. Focus your praise on their qualities as a person, rather than on their accomplishments.
- Don’t play the blame game. It doesn’t matter who started it. Instead, teach your children conflict resolution skills to help them resolve the issue as peacefully as possible. For example, you could ask each child to express their feelings, why they feel that way and what would solve the problem.
- Host sibling bonding activities such as going out for ice cream, watching movies together and having fun video game competitions together as a family.
- Be a role model to your children in how to deal with frustration and express to your children what a healthy sibling relationship looks like.
- Finally, try not to intervene with every issue that comes up. Only when it escalates too much should you step in. Until that happens, give children confidence by allowing them to try and work out their differences on their own.
Hammond Psychology & Associates, P.A. is a private practice in Brandon, Florida dedicated to serving children, teens, families and adults. For more info, please visit HammondPsychology.com.