One second my twins are best buddies and the next–someone is screaming, one is crying, and legos are flying! Sibling squabbles are inevitable. So what are parents to do? Let me share some things I’ve tried and some ideas I’ve found to manage sibling rivalry.
This post may contain affiliate links meaning that I may earn a small percentage (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase through a link that I share. See full disclosure.
What is Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling Rivalry is described 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 is 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.
What causes the siblings to squabble?
There are many contributing factors to 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
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, and our actions.
RELATED: BEST GIFTS FOR 5 YEAR OLD BOYS
Lets look at some steps we can take to help manage sibling rivalry.
When the home has a lack of structure, children don’t feel safe—and when they 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, the activities, etc, behavior deteriorates.
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!
Have systems in place for things your kids frequently argue about such as who takes a bath first, who gets to open the door, which one chooses the movie, etc.
When we have consistent routines and systems and make sure the environment is uncluttered and tidy, kids thrive.
Does this mean they never bicker? Ha! Not a chance! But it certainly cuts down on the fighting.
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 it’s worth the effort.
Remember that it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Even a few minutes together makes a big difference!
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 15 year old son and this is usually when I have a chance to call my 25 year old son!
I make certain that I am truly present for our time together. It’s so important that we aren’t distracted by our phones, or our busy thoughts of the laundry piles and the plumbing problem I still haven’t had time to call about.
Making regular positive attention with each child a priority helps kids feel valued and reduces the competition between the siblings for parent attention.
Reading a book together is a fantastic way to spend quality time with kids. This 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 it. When they cry and throw a fit and want more time, you can’t cave and give it to them. Then they have learned that crying and throwing fits gets rewarded with more screen time.
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
Kids need our help to learn to solve problems. We must teach them how to initiate play, and how to share their toys.
RELATED: 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 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!
What about Kids with Special Needs?
One of our 5 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.
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 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!
More From Handling Home:
All content here should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the advice of your own health professional for any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health or well-being, or the health of others See full disclaimer.