We need to view sibling rivalry in the home as a microcosm of how our children are learning to deal with the inevitable conflict they will experience in their own life. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with sibling rivalry.
We need to view sibling rivalry in the home as a microcosm of how our children are learning to deal with the inevitable conflict they will experience in their own intimate relationships, the working environment and society in general.
The home provides our children with a safe space for learning vital conflict management skills.
Reducing the frequency of conflict
Reducing the frequency of conflicts requires an understanding of just why sibling rivalry occurs in the first place. At a fundamental level, it has everything to do with you, the parent and the perception of the child as to how much of your attention they are getting versus the other siblings. It takes some conscious parenting, and getting down to your child’s level.
Never compare children; it will set your children up to compete, rather than to co-operate.
Read: Is there a right age gap?
Parents need to be creative in setting up an environment of choice and empowerment for their children with fundamental issues of fairness at the centre.
Instead of saying the child who finishes tidying up first can choose the TV programme, make odd days the day for one to choose the TV programme, and even days the day for the other to choose.
Although it is a good idea to try and set things up as much as possible for fairness, it is also probably a good idea to introduce the concept early that actually life itself is not always fair, that sometimes you just have to deal with it.
Make each child feel special
What you need to do is to find a way of making each child feel special in a way that responds to their unique needs. Making each child feel special reduces their need to play each other off to get your attention. One recommended way of doing this is spending one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis.
Recognise their feelings
If a child’s emotions aren’t recognised, they experience it as a form of betrayal because they feel that they are not being validated. Bad feelings are valid too.
“I hate her,” are things that you as a parent need to listen to and validate: “Oh, so you feel like you hate your sister.” Don’t just disregard them with moral sound bites like “No, that’s not nice, she’s your sister.”
Your role as a parent is to listen, hold and understand these very strong emotions and give them a place to be contained.
Also read: Is it okay to have just one child?
How your own past plays a role
Often the way you intervene is guided by what your experience was as a child.
If you were the youngest, and always felt hard done by your elder siblings, you might instinctively always leap to the defence of your youngest.
If you were the oldest and constantly trying to find space away from irritating younger siblings, you may instinctively try to make that space for your eldest.
Your role as a parent
Your role is not to act as judge and referee. As soon as you step in to hand down judgement, you are providing a platform for perceptions of unfairness.
You are also giving negative attention to the fighting. Any attention is better than no attention, so you are unwittingly reinforcing the fighting behaviour.
Also, as soon as you become part of the equation, any rational, interested–in-working-on-a-solution part of a child disappears from the scene and is replaced by a clamouring-to-get-you-on-my-side child.
Good read: Mila Kunis - a bad mom or only human?
Set down the ground rules
Instead, your role as the parent is to set down the ground rules with consequences around conflict. Each home will have their own ground rules, but essentially they need to revolve around respect for self, others and property.
Once the ground rules are set up and agreed, you need to give your children the space to start learning their own conflict resolution skills. Give them the space, but remain an interested observer.
If any of the ground rules is broken, you need to be consistent in intervening and following through with the consequences. So, if one of the ground rules is no hurting each other and the conflict escalates to that point, you step in immediately and separate the two parties until they have had time to cool down.
What you are ultimately aiming for is to provide a framework for conflict resolution that builds up instead of tearing down relationships. You want your children to achieve an internal locus of control for their emotions so that they are not always blaming the other, but taking responsibility for their actions.