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Sibling Rivalry is the competition, fighting, animosity, or jealousy between siblings. The sound of kids fighting or arguing is one that has concerned parents forever. Fortunately, there are solutions to help your kids stop fighting and start getting along and becoming friends — it’s a win-win.
It’s great when you hear laughter from the other room as the kids play. However, almost any parent would agree that when there is laughter and playing, no matter how nicely they may be playing at the moment, the chances are that the arguments or tears aren’t far behind.
While some siblings get along well and others not as well, the truth is that sibling rivalry is probably going to happen at one point or another.
Update: This was first published years ago, but I think that a close sibling relationship is so important, so I’m resharing it today. As a child development therapist, former teacher, and mom of four children, I’ve dealt with my fair share of sibling rivalry over the past 17+ years. Every family that I worked with asked for advice about sibling rivalry at one point or another, so if you are feeling alone or unsure of what to do now, don’t worry. We will get to the bottom of it.
When you are armed with knowledge and a strategy, you can solve just about any problem, including fighting kids.
Today I will share ten ideas that have been proven to work. One of them will surely work for you if you are consistent.
Why do siblings argue?
When children are around each other so much, it is common to argue a bit. I heard once that we feel safe enough to argue with those we love because we know that they love us unconditionally. Perhaps that is the case with siblings? 😉
“Fighting kids” is a complaint that parents have been talking about forever. We all want our children to be kind to each other. In fact, they even invented National Siblings Day to celebrate siblings and their friendship! A sibling bond is a special kind of bond. It’s one that I hold dear to my heart, and I expect my children to do the same, even if it takes them their whole childhood to understand.
Yes… it’s an age-old problem that parents have been facing, and there are many reasons:
- Boredom – are your kids staying busy? Doing age-appropriate chores? Playing outside? Spending time in screen-free play? Bored kids are often tired, frustrated, and looking for ways to stay busy (even if it means arguing.)
- Looking for attention from you – One child may feel that they are getting less attention from you, but you can take care of this rather quickly and easily. Give each child about 20 minutes, each day, of one-on-one time.
- Birth Order (the older child might feel as if they should be in charge of picking the game, toy, etc… or the younger child may feel that they should pick because they are younger. Oftentimes, when children are close in age, sibling rivalry is more exaggerated in the younger years.)
- Personality – one child may be easygoing, while one may be more set in his/her ways.
- They think it is acceptable. Be sure to explain the rules that hitting, yelling, biting, taking things, etc. is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Instead, hold a family meeting to explain and teach them ways to resolve the conflict in a kinder way. Practice it and talk about it often. “We are kind to each other when we ask for something.”
- Stress in your child’s life (tests, school, friendship, etc.) Kids have stress just like adults have stress.
- Tired – if your child is tired, they are going to be grumpy and argumentative. Be sure that your child is going to bed on time & sleeping long enough.
- Good nutrition – just like good sleep habits, good nutrition has had huge links to a positive personality, less stress, happiness, etc.
Four Different Families. One Similar Problem.
Sibling Rivalry has been an issue since families began. While I can relate with our children, my parents & in-laws also remember stories of sibling rivalry in their houses growing up.
My Mom’s Story:
My grandma used to tell me about her kids, growing up in Pennsylvania, in the 60s (pictured below).
There were four children: my mom and her three siblings. They would fight & argue to the point that my grandma could remember telling them, often, “If we can’t have peace in our family, how can we expect to have peace in the world?”
The Story of my Dad’s Family:
On the other side of Pittsburgh, my Dad’s family was going through the same thing. My other grandma told me that she “had to turn off The Three Stooges” because my dad and his brother were constantly hitting each other with moves they saw on the show. It would easily turn from pretending into actual fighting.
Story of My father-in-law’:
Not far from there, in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, my husband’s dad was waving a newly-earned nickel in front of his sister, who didn’t get one.
As he waved it, he said, “I get to buy a popsicle and you don’t.” His mom walked right up behind him and took the nickel off of him. He did not get a popsicle that day.
My mother-in-law’s Story:
Just twenty miles from there, my husband’s mom (a middle daughter) always tried to follow the rules, which bothered her older & younger sister. On one particular day, my mother-in-law had just finished washing and drying the dishes after dinner.
As she was getting ready to put them away, her parents left the room, leaving just enough time for her older sister to dump dirty water back on all of the clean dishes and blame it on my mother-in-law.
Sibling Rivalry is not new.
Parents have been asking kids to stop fighting since the beginning of time. The good news is that persistence pays off.
It’s natural to want our kids to be best friends. We want them to have a life of happiness together, counting on each other, and relying on each other. Personally, I want to know that when times get tough (now, in a few years, and when they are adults), they will call each other and know that they will have the support of their siblings who have become their friends. ♥
“Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family, and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.” –Eastman
Younger Children Argue More
Yes. Studies show that “Little Kids Fighting Happens A Lot – In children ages 7 and under, the number of arguments is 3-7 every hour.”
It’s one of the most common child behaviors that happen during these young developmental stages, but just because it’s common doesn’t mean we have to ignore it or deal with it. Parents want a solution!
Why Do Siblings Fight?
The good news is that sibling rivalry, while bothersome at the moment, often helps children learn how to negotiate, learn problem-solving skills, conflict resolution, and understand others?
The bad news is that it brings negative attention to your child and can ruin many fun family activities (or even an ordinary day.)
WHY they are fighting. There are many reasons and it’s up to us to figure them out. Pay Attention to what is going on when the fighting starts:
The National Center of Biotechnology Information suggests: “Most research on direct sibling influences is grounded in developmental or social learning models, suggesting that, by virtue of their everyday involvement, siblings can promote positive development as well as adjustment problems.”
“Siblings offer early, on-the-job training in how to work and live with other people. They also provide a crash course in how to manage intense emotions: envy, hatred, anger.
In children of all ages, but especially younger children, the urge to compete for parental attention is innate. Among teenagers, sibling conflict helps them work out their need to differentiate from family and to set their own boundaries.” – New York Times
How do you stop sibling rivalry?
We the fighting to stop, right? As parents, we want our kids to be not only family members, but also friends. It’s important to teach them them to have each other’s backs, to support each other, to value one another. We want them to enjoy hanging out together without tattling to us about the other ones. All of these things are possible.
As Ortega said, “To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs, and joys. We live outside a touch of time.”
I read a book called Siblings without Rivalry and it was great. It talks about how most rivalry stems from needing attention.
When one child says “Mom, so & so took my pencil.” Instead of saying our natural reaction ‘Stop being a tattletale.” Or “Give it back.” the book explains that we need to just be empathic.
“Oh, he took your pencil? That probably hurt your feelings.” They just want to feel valued. That was all that it took for me to see a huge turnaround in our kids.
It works. It really does. Just relate to them, listen to them, and be empathetic. They will handle the rest themselves.
Since most of the arguments happen when I’m not right there, I end up being the judge. The problem is that I can’t pick when it is he said/she said, so I have to go off of who I think is right. I do not like to do this… at all. If I don’t have all of the facts, they are treated equally. Usually, it ends in everyone facing the consequences (which is usually doing a boring & hard chore that they dislike)
3). Take It Away
Take away anything that the children fight over. I tell our kids “If you are arguing over something, I will take it. Nothing will come in-between your relationship.”
Then, I do what I said— I take the object in question away and I do not give it back until the following day. They no longer recieve any warnings before I take it (I used to give out warnings, but now they know the rules). If I hear fighting, it is gone/turned off/taken away and I ALWAYS remind them why: “We don’t let anything come between family.”
4). Take Away Electronics
Take away electronics. It works like a charm! Seriously- just read this post on no electronics for the week to hear more. I can’t tell you enough about why I love this week, but I will say that the kids like it just as much. Yes, the beginning of the week is hard, but by the end, they are playing and happy, and not one child is asking for their electronics.
Note: I do allow family tv shows and movies- as long as they are sharing the experience with someone else (like watching a Netflix series at night together), I am OK with it.
When we did give them back, we immediately started using our Chores for Screentime Cards.
5). Use “Put-Ups”
If a sibling puts a sibling down, they have to offer a compliment or a way to build that person up. A good ratio is 1:3. If you put someone down once, you must say three things that are encouraging and kind to build them back up.
Child A says: “You are so annoying.” to Child B.
Child B is sad. The parent overhears it and reminds Child A to offer three “put-ups” or kind words.
Child A: “You are fun to play with on the basketball court. You are good at sharing your toys. I like how you work hard at baseball practice.”
It can be hard for them to think of new compliments and not always go back to the generic ones like “You are nice,” but they will get the hang of it.
Tip: Another way of offering compliments & kind thoughts is through a kindness journal.
Over the past year, I gave each of our kids a “Kindness Journal” (just a small notebook). It is used as a way for their siblings to write something kind to that child.
(Example: “Ethan, you worked hard biking up that hill yesterday. Way to go!” It’s simple- they write one thought each day for one sibling. We rotate the books. It’s been wonderful!
6). Work It Out
Sometimes, the best thing that we can do is to teach our children to work it out. Give them the skills to resolve conflict and then let them do it.
When our kids come to me with a tattle, I remind them that if they can’t work it out, I will be forced to take action, which means taking things away or giving everyone consequences. (Unless someone is being hurt – that’s a non-negotiation/must-tell-mom thing).
7). Time Together
“Children are spending more and more time in age-segregated activities. Meanwhile, houses have gotten bigger. Although many kids still share a room (as mine do), increasing numbers of children sleep on their own. With less need to resolve conflict and less time available in which to do it, some disputes may fester longer than they need to.” – KJ Dell’Antonia
8). Cotton Ball Reward System
Using our Reward System. If you have not read about our Cotton Ball Reward System, I would suggest trying it. It encourages our kids to do nice things for others. Focusing on the positive works!
9). Alone Time
Just as you finished reading about time together, I want to remind you that your children also need some space. Independent play or time to relax is important for your child (and for you). Offering alone time is a great way to let your children have time to reflect, be in a quiet environment, and miss each other a bit.
I can usually tell when they need time to themselves and this is when I give them a quiet activity, like reading or playing in their rooms. A 30-minute ‘daily reading’ time is a perfect break in the day for everyone to sit alone and just relax. If children are too young to read, drawing is a great outlet.
10). Speak Gratitude & Pray Outloud
It is so important for our kids to hear us being grateful. Every day, when I pray with our kids, I tell God that I am thankful that they have one another. I am thankful that they have the love and friendship of a sibling — built-in best friends. Every single day, I say this out loud, in front of our children.
I usually include their cousins in this prayer, too. Cousins, like siblings, make great friends and these six cousins are as close as siblings!♥
Children love to live up to our expectations & act like we say they act. Remember… our words become our child’s inner voice. If we focus on the positive, they will follow, rising to the occasion, proving what you said to be true, so let it be good.
“We didn’t realize we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.” — Winnie The Pooh
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Remember, these ideas are not a substitute for professional counseling. If your children continue to argue or if the fighting becomes physical, you will want to seek professional help.