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How to deal with sibling rivalry: 5 tips for parents

January 22, 2013

how to deal with sibling rivalry

by Janice Killey

Sibling rivalry is when brothers and sisters fight, although they can be the best of friends. Children will compete for everything from toys to attention. At different stages of development, their differing needs can significantly affect how they relate to one another.

It’s normal for children to have disagreements and conflict. People have different needs, wants and ways of doing things – this is what makes them unique.

However, in some families the conflict between brothers and sisters is so severe that it disrupts daily functioning, or affects kids emotionally or psychologically in negative ways. In those cases, it’s wise to get help from a mental health professional like a psychologist.

Problems can arise with how children choose to handle their conflicts.  Whenever possible, don’t get involved. Step in only if there’s a danger of physical harm. If you do intervene, try to make it a win-win situation where each child gains something.

Sibling rivalry can occur due to competition for Mum’s attention and her highest regard. This can depend on the age of the kids, but check that you’re spending enough time individually with each child, and make sure there is enough positive reinforcement coming through.

Psychologists use a piggy bank metaphor to get people thinking about putting positive ‘deposits’ in their own and other’s piggy banks.

In the sibling rivalry example I would be encouraging each child to write down or state several ‘piggy bank’ deposits they have noticed with their sibling (e.g that person doing /saying something nice to them, looking nice that day, sharing etc) each day.

It’s normal for children to have the same interests as their siblings which may cause conflict and disagreements.  Here are some tips for managing conflict:

  • Establish fair rules for acceptable behaviour and ensure that they are clear
  • Keep these rules to a minimum
  • Involve children in making the rules, if possible
  • Form agreements with children rather than imposing your will on them
  • Explain why the rules are important

A positive way of viewing sibling rivalry from a parental point of view is to consider that sibling interaction offers you an insight into how your children cope when pushed to the limit, or when they are under extreme pressure.

Sibling interactions offer parents the opportunity to help their children learn the social and emotional management skills they need. Parents can use these fights to help children learn to manage their strong emotions and to learn more effective conflict resolution skills.

Janice Killey is the principal psychologist at Life Resolutions Kogarah and Leichhardt practices in New South Wales.  She has over a decade’s experience in specialty areas including child and adolescent issues, couple counselling, post-natal depression, parenting issues, anxiety, depression, anger management, drug and alcohol and other addictions, mindfulness and hypnosis.



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