Addressing sibling rivalry

To all the parents who are exhausted from having all your kids at home for long periods of time due to what’s going on globally, I feel you. I hope the tips below are helpful and pray for God’s grace in these challenging times.

When I found out that I was having another boy, I started to panic. Two boys in two years. Part of me was happy because I could already see them chasing each other around the house and getting up to mischief together (which they do now), but the other part of me feared the worst. The truth was, I was worried that they’d grow up constantly competing with each other and being sworn enemies for life. After all, I thought I was having a second child so that my first one had someone to play with, not fight against!

Yes a little dramatic but, then again, haven’t we seen proof of that in movies and books including Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau and for those who followed the Avengers saga, Nebula and Gomorrah?

I also thought about my own family, the issues we siblings had when we were younger and some of the strain we still feel today. Isn’t it shocking how we carry so much of it into adulthood? And isn’t it true that it affects most people, regardless of whether we have sisters or brothers or both?

So I did what I knew best. I started to do some research about this thing called sibling rivalry. As I did, I realised that there are certain things we can do as parents to address this issue with our kids. Here are some strategies for addressing sibling rivalry that I found helpful:

Empathise

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Whether you are the older child who suddenly feels threatened by a younger sibling or the younger child that wants to act out to get some attention, do your best to see things from their perspective. If they are old enough, take time to ask them individually if anything’s up or bothering them.

Where you can, try to spend one on one time with each child. Now this can be hard to do with our busy schedules but many have said even just 10 mins a day with each child makes a huge difference. Connect with each one over a book or a game and perhaps they will have less reason to compete because they already feel secure in your love.

Treat each child as unique

Don’t compare your children. I know this in my head but it’s so much easier said than done. Practice is key.

Try your best not to label one child as the brave one and another as the timid one, or the athletic one and the academic one. While it is true that every child has their own strengths, labelling them can often have a negative effect where they feel expected to live up to their label. This may cause a child to always feel the pressure to be brave, or to resist trying new things because it’s been accepted that this is who he is.

Instead, focus on acknowledging effort and how they are unconditionally loved simply because they are your children.

Teach social skills

I once read that we don’t have to like our siblings all the time, but we need to learn how to get along with them. Our children will continue to have conflict. This shouldn’t be surprising because, as adults, we often disagree with one another too. What’s important is that we teach our children the skills to communicate their needs, feelings and thoughts clearly and respectfully.

One way to do this is to model it for them when they are working through a disagreement with you or with each other. Ask questions that build empathy such as, how would that make you feel? What do you think he thinks when you do that? What can we do that will be fair to both of you?

Provide opportunities to problem solve

Children need opportunities to problem solve. That is how they learn and practise essential skills. If they are old enough, ask them for their ideas instead of giving them our answers. When a child complains about her sibling taking her toy, acknowledge how she feels and then ask them what they think can be done about it. If they are both old enough, you could ask them to try to work it out for themselves and if they cannot, then you could get involved and guide them.

An example of this might be:
Anna: Mummy, Jan took my doll and I was playing with it first!
Mummy: You sound upset. I would be upset if someone took something I was using. What do you think you can do about it?
Anna: I could snatch it back.
Mummy: You could but then Jan could also snatch it back. What else can we do?
Anna: I could tell her that I will let her have it after I’m done with it.
Mummy: Jan, does that sound fair to you?

Collaborate and celebrate

Finally, seize moments to collaborate. Whether it’s in building a tower together or packing up toys or them teaming up against you in a car racing competition, let them experience what it means to work together. Find moments to laugh, have fun as a family and celebrate each other. Remember every interaction is a chance to make precious memories and build strong bonds that will last into adulthood.

Kristy Tan

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