How to Stop Sibling Rivalry for a Peaceful Family
One second my twins are best buddies and the next–someone is screaming, one is crying, and Legos are flying!
Some level of sibling rivalry is inevitable. So what are parents to do?
Let me share some practical things I’ve tried and solutions I’ve found to manage the sibling rivalry.
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Understanding Sibling Rivalry
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital describes sibling rivalry as the fighting, arguing, jealousy and competition between brothers and sisters.
The problems usually persist throughout childhood and can even continue into adulthood.
This rivalry between brothers and sisters can be particularly intense when the kids are very close in age, are twins, and/or of the same gender.
But, this brother/sister fighting isn’t isolated to only kids close in age. My boys are 10 years apart and they still fuss and fight!!
Another complicating factor with sibling rivalry…
When one of the kids is extremely gifted in some area–academically, athletically, socially; or if one of the children requires more attention due to an illness or a disability.
Obviously, we have no control over having a gifted child or a child with a chronic condition.
But, there are many things we DO have control over.
Why do Siblings Fight?
There are many causes of sibling rivalry.
- Lack of structure
- Competing for time with parents
- Lack of positive attention from parents
- Inconsistent parenting
- Lack of problem solving skills
- If a child has an illness, special needs, or when a new baby arrives
How can We Prevent Sibling Rivalry?
Many of the situations that contribute to sibling rivalry are things that we can change.
As parents, we have the opportunity to alter:
- the environment
- our responses
- our actions.
Lets look at some steps we can take to prevent and manage sibling rivalry…
When the home has a lack of structure, children don’t feel safe—and when kids don’t know what to expect, they become anxious.
Lack of structure will also cause kids to push and test every limit in order to figure out where the boundaries are.
I saw this first hand in my first grade classroom and certainly now as a stay-at-home-mom. When I don’t provide structure to the routines, the environment, and the activities…
Here’s what happens:
Have systems in place for things your kids frequently argue about such as:
- who takes a bath first
- who gets to open the door
- who chooses the movie
When we have consistent routines and systems and make sure the home is clutter free and tidy, children thrive.
Having structured routines is incredibly important for stress free bedtimes and to ensure healthy sleep.
You can read all of my best sleep solutions for kids here!
Does all of this mean kids will never bicker? Ha! Not a chance!
But it certainly cuts down on the fighting between children.
Sibling Rivalry Solutions: Quality Time
Set aside time to spend with each child one-on-one.
This is important for each parent to do.
If you have several children very close in ages and/or multiples, this can be very difficult to work out.
But, here’s the deal…
It’s worth the effort.
Remember that it doesn’t have to be elaborate.
Even a few minutes together makes a big difference!
Activities to Prevent Sibling Rivalry
I use bath time to talk to the twins one-on-one.
Then after the twins are in bed, I’m able to spend time with my 16 year old son and this is usually when I have a chance to call my 26 year old son!
But, the most important thing….and I can’t stress this enough…..
Make certain to be truly present for your time together.
It’s critical that we aren’t distracted by our phones, or our busy thoughts of the laundry piles or our worries of how our family will survive on only one income.
Making regular positive attention with each child a priority helps kids feel valued and reduces the competition between the siblings for parent attention.
Sibling Fighting Solutions
Reading a book together is a fantastic way to spend quality time with kids.
This children’s book is the most heartwarming story to illustrate for kids that they each share a special place in their parent’s heart.
Use Consistency to manage sibling rivalry
When you make a rule or set an expectation:
You must stick to it.
Kids need us to set and maintain the expectations for their behavior.
For example, at our house, you can’t say the ‘S’ words, (Stupid or Shut-up) and never EVER can you physically harm each other.
If you make a rule that the kids are allowed a maximum of 30 minutes of screen time a day, then you must consistently enforce that rule.
When the kids cry and throw a fit and want more time, you can’t cave and give it to them.
Because then kids learn…
That crying and throwing a fit gets rewarded.
This isn’t to say that you can’t ever bend the rules.
But do so in a positive way.
Occasionally, when I’m telling the twins that their screen time is up, if they turn it off immediately without asking for “one more minute” and without whining or crying, then I will say something like:
“I really appreciate that you turned the ipad off immediately when I asked…you just earned an extra 15 minutes of screen time that you can use this afternoon!”
This positive reinforcement and reward for making the right choice helps motivate kids to do the right thing.
Teach Problem Solving to Cut Down on the Kids Fighting
Kids need our help to learn to solve problems. We must teach them how to initiate play, and how to share their toys.
Click to Read: How to easily Organize the Playroom
It’s our job to guide and instruct our kids when they have a disagreement, especially when they are young.
One way to help them manage conflicts with each other is to ask questions.
For example you could say:
“You want to play hide and seek but your brother wants to play with dinosaurs.
Can you think of a way to work this out so that you both will be happy?”
I love hearing what ideas they come up with!
Another tactic to help your kids with problem solving is to provide opportunities that promote cooperation.
Learning to participate cooperatively develops important life skills and reduces the ongoing competition siblings often have.
One of our favorite ways to practice working together is to play a cooperative game.
Our absolute favorite right now is ‘Hoot Owl Hoot’.
It’s such a fun little game where you all work together to get the baby owls to the nest before the sun comes up!
It teaches problem solving and cooperation in such a fun way!
Click to Read: Fine Motor Activities for Preschoolers
What about Sibling Rivalry and Kids with Special Needs?
One of our 6 year old twins, Beckem, was born with a rare disorder called KAT6A.
If you have a child with special needs, then you know the extra time they require from you.
Hospital stays, therapies, and doctor appointments can certainly displace the attention you are able to give to each child.
Your other children may act out in an attempt to receive more attention from you, or because they are worried about their brother or sister.
Your child with special needs may not be able to have the same responsibilities as their siblings, but make sure you assign chores that they can handle for their ability level.
You also may have to intervene more often when they squabble instead of letting them work it out using the tools you’ve taught.
One book we love that helps kids understand differences is:
“My Brother is Very Special” , by Amy May.
It’s a story about a little boy who has apraxia, a severe speech disorder. Others can’t understand him, but he can understand perfectly.
Just like our sweet Beckem.
Since Beckem, is minimally verbal, I have to monitor quite closely and provide lots of extra guidance. Especially when we have play dates with other children.
Many times Beckem will be excluded from playing. I don’t think it’s intentional, but he gets left behind because he can’t run as fast and because he isn’t verbally interacting with the kids.
What are parents to do when this happens?
This article is a must read. It’s written by a mom of 6 children, and she has some fantastic ways to respond when kids are excluded.
Final Thoughts on Solutions for Sibling Rivalry
When brothers and sisters argue and fight, it’s quite unnerving for parents.
While you may not be able to stop it completely, you can implement these parenting strategies and begin to manage sibling rivalry in your family.
What are some tricks you use to help your kids get along? Leave a comment below–I’d love to know!
Sibling Rivalry Solutions (Tips for Peace in the Family)
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2 thoughts on “Sibling Rivalry Solutions (Tips for Peace in the Family)”
What is the consequences when they fight?
If the boys fight physically, it’s almost always when I am distracted with making dinner or on a phone call. The first thing I do is separate them in separate rooms or have them sit at opposite sides of the kitchen, simply to keep them both safe until I can get to a stopping point. This gives them both a minute to settle down and gives me a minute to prepare to respond calmly. I ignore them at this point.
If Adler is crying and saying “but he destroyed my lego robot so I HAD to hit him to get my legos back!!!” I very calmly respond with something like, “I want to hear about this, but I’m not willing to talk about it until I’m finished making dinner.” Then I ignore anything after that until I’m finished with my chore. When I am finished I talk with each kid.
I might say to Beckem, “You took apart your brother’s robot that he had worked really hard to build. Do you think that made him feel happy or mad? (Beckem would sign “mad”)….”yes, it made him mad and I would be really mad too if someone took apart something I had worked hard to make. That was really rude of you to do and if you want to build something with legos then you need to ask mommy and we can make something together.”
Then my conversation with Adler would sound something like: “I know you are angry that bubba took apart your creation that you worked really hard to build….I would be angry too. It’s okay to be angry, but God’s Word says it’s NOT okay to hit people. I won’t allow you to hurt your brother and I would never let anyone hurt you.”
By this point they are usually both crying and hugging each other because they feel so sad they have hurt each other. Then we talk about how to make things right. Maybe we work together to rebuild the robot, maybe they were fighting over a toy so I take it away and nobody plays with it, perhaps one kid broke the other’s toy….then he would have to give him one of his special toys or use his piggy bank money to replace the broken toy.
Here’s another example of a consequence I try to find an opportunity to insert:
Adler may say: “Mommy, I thought you said we were having ice cream after dinner?!”
My reply: “Oh, I’m so sorry sweetie, you guys used up my extra ice-cream making time—when you two chose to do the wrong things, my ice cream time was spent helping you guys do the right thing….and helping you do the right thing is my #1 priority….ice-cream isn’t. But tomorrow is a new day and I know you’ll do better!”
Natural consequences are the most effective at changing behavior. If I just sent both boys to a time out for 5 minutes then released them to play, another fight is sure to happen.