How to Reduce Sibling Conflict: Is it Rivalry or Is it Something Much Simpler?
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So often parents jump to assume our children have a sibling rivalry the minute we hear them begin to quarrel. That’s not typically the case! I want to chat about sibling conflict, what sibling rivalry really is, and, most importantly, how to significantly reduce and diffuse sibling conflict.
What is Sibling Rivalry?
By the very definition, a rivalry is a competition. A competition for the same object or superiority. This definition indicates that sibling rivalry is when siblings compete.
Now, it is true that sometimes parenting efforts can get lopsided, and one child will find himself feeling as though he needs to compete for mom’s attention. However, typically that is not the case.
MDParenting is founded on the premise of parenting with purpose and intention, so the fact that you are here reading on THIS source is a positive sign that you likely try diligently to give your children equal attention and to be intentional and parent on purpose.
When things get out of balance, and one child MUST receive more attention than another, for instance, due to sickness, then you may indeed begin to see actual sibling rivalry happen.
In which case, you’ll need to take measures to keep things balanced. True sibling rivalry happens when one child’s needs are not met. Her emotional tank is empty, and she will do whatever necessary to get her “fair share” of attention.
That can mean acting out, being mean and/or aggressive toward a sibling, or behaving in uncharacteristic ways.
As soon as you see sibling conflict or troubles begin to arise, ask yourself, “Is everyone getting attention? Are all the children’s emotional, mental, and physical needs met?” If the answer is no, take steps to resolve that. If the answer is yes, then sibling rivalry is not the cause of sibling conflict in your home.
What is the culprit?
Poor living together skills!
The Importance of Sibling Relationships
We’ll address poor living together skills between siblings in just a bit. But first, let’s talk about why it even matters.
The importance of sibling relationships is significant. How siblings treat each other is a big deal in our home! A very big deal!
So big a deal that it’s not uncommon for me to shut down all the electronic devices in our home, stop all play, halt homeschooling, and spend a day or two or more working on sibling relationships when I see issues emerging.
Sibling relationships are a big deal in our home because siblings never stop being a sibling. You can leave home, change your name, or ignore your family, but a sibling is still there, being a sibling regardless of the situation.
People make various friendships. Some last and some don’t. A brother or a sister, though, is always so.
Because of this certainty, having a sibling is one of the greatest gifts life has to offer IF the relationship is properly cultivated and nurtured! That is a pretty big IF because many times, sibling relationships are not intentionally guided by parents and end up becoming toxic and harmful.
I won’t have that for my kids.
You can take steps to understand and promote the importance of sibling relationships so that the gift of brothers and sisters can be a source of blessing, support, security, and stability for your children the duration of their lives!
Get To The Root of the Problem
The first step in diffusing sibling conflict is to get to the root of the problem. If you have established that true sibling rivalry is happening, then you can take steps to fix that by leveling the playing field and making sure each child’s emotional needs are met.
If true sibling rivalry isn’t the problem, which it typically isn’t, then what you are really seeing is poor living together skills.
Let’s look at an example for context.
Child 1: Mom, Joey came in my room AGAIN, even though I have told him not to one million times before!
Child 2: I had to go in her room, her socks were on my bedroom floor, and I am cleaning my room, so I had to put them in her room!
Child 1: But you didn’t even knock!
Child 2: I did knock, but your door wasn’t shut all the way, so when I knocked, it cracked open, so I just walked in to put them in there!
Two separate issues are going on within the dialogue above (and yes, this is a real example, taken from my own home ?.)
The first and likely the easiest to fix issue is that child #1 has not developed good door-knocking and entry habits.
When one person enters someone else’s space, he should be 100% sure he has the OK to enter.
Child #1 should have; knocked, held the door shut by the handle when it began to open, knocked some more, then told child #2, “I have your socks, and I need to give them to you because I am cleaning my room!” That way, child #2 could have taken them without child #1 ever needed to enter the room.
This skill can be trained with some practice. Child #1 will need you to not only train him the correct way to do things but also to make it mandatory and follow through with consequences when the rules aren’t followed.
Spend time role-playing and literally showing your child HOW something is done the right way.
For the example above, take child #1 to the door, demonstrate a knock, holding the door handle, knocking again, waiting for an answer, providing the right words and phrasing, and show him HOW to do it correctly. Rinse and repeat, then have him perform the actions himself.
The second issue we see happening above is child #2 being overly sensitive.
If the door was not tightly drawn, chances are, it wasn’t THAT big of a deal for child #1 to enter. Being overly sensitive is a bit more difficult to correct.
This takes more time, patience, and consistency from you as the parent to help guide a child through.
To improve a child’s tendency to be overly sensitive about things, don’t be overly sensitive, yourself! Honest-to-goodness, that is the #1 most substantial step you can take to helping your child with oversensitivity.
Additionally, use examples of a time when someone else was overly sensitive, and child #2 could see the unreasonableness of the behavior. Dialogue about what constitutes a big deal and what doesn’t, without belittling your child’s feelings!
Finally, if over sensitivity persists, talk to your child about any deeper issues or concerns that may be lying underneath. If you are confident there is no larger issue; you will need to be the mediator.
That may sound something like this, “You are not being reasonable. I do not see a problem that merits your level of frustration. Take some time out away from toys, activities, games, (fun) to make two lists. On one list, write down all the blessings and privileges you have to be thankful for. On the other list, write down the cause of your frustration.”
This exercise will typically put things into perspective for the overly sensitive child, allowing her to redirect her focus toward gratitude. (For younger children who aren’t writing yet, they can simply make the lists in their heads.)
Reduce Sibling Conflict by Teaching Siblings to Get Along
Alright, so I’ve already alluded to the most powerful step you can take to avoid and correct sibling conflict. The best thing you can do to minimize the amount of sibling conflict in your home is to teach and train good living together skills.
The vast majority of sibling conflict is not sibling rivalry, but rather the result of selfishness, oversensitivity, poor manners, and lack of etiquette.
It is not odd or surprising that brothers and sisters need to learn how to get along. Married couples have to do this every day.
Humans have a tendency toward selfishness, some more than others. Living together skills require selflessness. It’s no wonder then, as your child’s parent, you’ll have to do some intentional training with your children to build healthy sibling relationships and stop sibling conflict.
Step #1 to Teach Siblings to Get Along
Know your children well, and teach them about one another.
Children have different love languages, personalities, and preferences.
It can be difficult to think outside yourself, and children in particular need to practice this.
Examples are good for context, so let’s look at an example as we go along, so you can see the step in action.
Child #1 LOVES hugs! Her love language is physical touch. She is often sad and frustrated because child #2 tells her no when she wants a hug! She feels as though child #2 doesn’t love her because she doesn’t want to hug her often enough.
Child #2’s love language is Receiving Gifts. She has NO idea that when she doesn’t want to hug child #1 that it hurts her heart deeply!
Take the time to sit down with both children and explain the situation. Child #2 needs to know that child #1 feels unloved as a result of a lack of physical affection from child #2. Likewise, child #1 needs to know that child #2 DOES indeed love her.
Work with them both to understand one another. Reach an agreement about how many hugs a day are acceptable for both children, and encourage them to give and receive love in their sibling’s preferred love language.
By knowing your children well, teaching them to know one another well, and then training them on how to live within that knowledge, you are empowering them with tools to strengthen a healthy sibling relationship.
Step #2 to Teach Siblings to Get Along
Train Good Habits INTO Your Children and Bad Habits OUT
Making common courtesies such as ‘please and thank you’ ‘holding doors open’ and ‘letting others go first’ a requirement in your home will strengthen sibling relationships and reduce sibling conflict by default.
It’s hard to get mad at someone with kind manners. Not impossible, but far less likely.
If all the children in your home are held to the same kindness and manners standards, they will learn to be responsible for habits toward one another.
Good habits to train are endless. Basically, if you can think of it and it will benefit your child, the family, and the rest of the world, be intentional to train it!
Manners are a dying art in modern parenting culture. Very sadly, parents are more and more believing that making your children say please and thank you and show common courtesy is an expectation they shouldn’t impose. That is nonsense, and we’re not going to waste time talking about why today.
For the sake of this topic, just know that good habits can and should be taught on purpose. And that doing so will be advantageous for your children.
Step #3 to Teach Siblings to Get Along
Dialogue and narrative with your children are an important element of child training though discussion can often feel abstract and conceptual to a child.
One of the best ways to help your child really “get it” when training living together skills is to role-play.
Set up a scene and do run-throughs of how a situation SHOULD be handled.
Show your child the kind actions to use, demonstrate a fitting tone of voice, and appropriate words to say.
Step #4 to Teach Siblings to Get Along
Follow through and be consistent.
Any parenting expert worth your time should be telling you repeatedly how important follow-through and consistency are!
I would be doing you a huge disservice if I told you all the things to do, but didn’t tell you that it’s going to take a hearty level of commitment and dedication on your part to see sibling conflict prevented and resolved and healthy sibling relationships formed!
You have your work cut out for you. BUT… having children who get along, the VAST majority of the time, IS possible!
Recently we had a dinner guest. He is a business associate of my husband’s. The day after he was at our home for dinner, he said to my husband, “Do your children always get along that well?”
He was so impressed and surprised at how the children treated each other.
I am not telling you that to toot my own horn or brag on my children (although I don’t ever hesitate to speak favorably about them!), I tell you that to encourage you that siblings don’t HAVE to fight.
There will always be conflict. We are humans, and humans are flawed. Despite that, there is no rule written that says siblings must fight like cats and dogs or hate each other!
There just isn’t.
Decide on the rules of your home, make sure they include the way you expect siblings to treat each other, take all the necessary steps to train the good habits and behaviors that you expect, then lastly, follow-through with consistency to enforce those rules!
Use Activities to Help Siblings Get Along
Before we close, I want to add in one bonus tips to make the entire process of resolving sibling conflict more effective.
Using activities to help siblings get along can be very successful and practical.
Incorporating team-building exercises for siblings in your parenting plan will accomplish a few things.
First of all, when siblings have fun together, they are laughing, releasing endorphins, and building an armory of memories.
The act of laughing and playing together, along with meeting a goal or accomplishing something, will promote bonding!
Done regularly, this leads to the second benefit, which is furthered habit training.
By tasking and requiring your children to accomplish things together, they are forming habits of working WITH each other instead of against.
Lastly, team building exercises will keep your children busy together.
“The devil finds work for idle hands!’
Meaning, while boredom may be good to get your child’s creative juices flowing, idleness is likely to lead children to trouble!
Keep them busy, doing productive and meaningful things together.
Closing Thoughts on Sibling Conflict Resolution
Like any truly worthy endeavor, the art of sibling conflict resolution can take a while.
Nonetheless, it IS a worthy endeavor! So worthy in fact, I am deeply convicted about this! And here is why…
In Mark chapter 12, the religious leaders were trying to trick or trap Jesus by asking questions that may have interpretive answers. In Mark 12:28, they ask him what commandment is the most important?!
This is what Jesus said in verse 30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength!”
What is really important for us to understand today is the weight of what Jesus says next!
In verse 31, He says: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandments greater than these!”
Love your neighbor!
Your child’s siblings are LITERALLY their neighbors.
They live in the room RIGHT NEXT DOOR. From a scriptural standpoint, this command cannot be ignored. For we are told, it is second ONLY to loving God.
Human conflict is inevitable, but sibling conflict does not have to be the norm in your home.
You can have a peaceful home where your children get along, mutual respect is shared, and manners win!