Siblings fight for plenty of reasons from jealousy to personality differences. They key thing as a parent is navigating these fights and stopping a rivalry from developing. There’s many ways to achieve this and you can find 4 of the best right here.
Make friends before birth
The attitude your child has to a new sibling before they are born can heavily impact how they get along as they grow up. Focus on including your child in the pregnancy and teaching them to love their sibling before birth. You can do this by showing your child pictures of your baby growing in your belly, letting them feel your belly and the baby kick and encouraging them to talk to their new brother or sister.
Teach them to be a proud older brother or sister
Siblings are less likely to fight if they bond well in the early years. You can help build their relationship by encouraging your older child to act as a proud brother or sister. Classic tasks such as helping to change diapers or feeding their sibling can strengthen your children's bond. Find child-friendly changing tables and high chairs in baby equipment from MyDeal.
What the experts recommend
Dr. Kimberley O’Brien is a child psychologist from The Quirky Kid Clinic. Sibling rivalry is an issue that arises often in her work and here’s her recommendations to deal with it.
“Sibling rivalry is a common concern for most parents and I often recommend the book, “Siblings Without Rivalry” (Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish). Research suggests while arguments between siblings are typically torturous for parents, it is one way children learn how to problem solve and deal with conflict. But don’t just ignore it - Endless sibling rivalry can impact on one’s self esteem and general happiness.
According to clients aged 5-12 years at The Quirky Kid Clinic, jealousy and competition are the main triggers for sibling rivalry. Parents often subconsciously favour the younger child when attempting to resolve sibling conflict and this can lead to resentment from elder siblings. Make an effort to give your children specific praise in relation to their individual strengths and talents, and if possible schedule one-to-one time with each child every week.
Parents can prevent fights from flaring up by setting clear and firm expectations for your children. Invite your children to help brainstorm the family values or ground rules in a calm space with cushions and candlelight to make your family meeting memorable. Suggest ideas like ‘respect for people and property’ or ‘no hitting, no hurting’ and encourage everyone to contribute. Check-in on a monthly basis to revise the list.
Space is another important aspect to managing sibling rivalry. Set up a separate workstation for each sibling. This might look like a toy corner or a desk with a cork-board above it, depending on the age of your children. The next step is stimulation! Give each child the materials required to start a practical project. Follow the child’s interests and give them the tools to tackle a long-term task. Encourage them to collect items to decorate their space with books, activities or pictures they find interesting...and praise them often!”
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Don't be a referee
When you hear the sounds of siblings fighting your first instinct will be to jump into action and stop it. Don’t! Unless they are causing each other harm or likely to damage property occasional bickering is expected. Jessica Cleary, the principal psychologist at Hopscotch and Harmony offers more details:
“Often we make the mistake of stepping in too quickly when our children are arguing. We can't stand the bickering and we want it to STOP NOW so we try to fix it and find a solution so everyone is happy. An alternative approach is to coach our children to resolve the situation themselves rather than to fix it for them.
Many parents find it difficult to determine when to step in to break up an argument versus when to let the kids work it out themselves.
Often our attention is only drawn to the situation when there has already been a provocation and a retaliation so we don't have all the information. For minor arguments it's best to let them go so your children have the opportunity to practice their problem solving skills. Stepping in too quickly over little squabbles robs them of the opportunity to practice the important skills of problem solving, negotiation and compromise. If the argument is escalating then your kids may need some coaching to solve the problem. You could help them speak to each other in a more respectful tone and help them get their point across in a better way. One communication technique to teach is: "I feel .... when you .... so I would like you to ...". For example this might look like: "I feel angry when you play with the Lego I got for my birthday. I'd like you to ask first." If the argument escalates and becomes aggressive then it is necessary to step in EVERY single time. This makes it quite clear that hurting each other with our bodies or words will not be tolerated.”
If you suspect your children are developing a sibling rivalry you don’t need to worry. Not only is it normal for siblings to fight occasionally there’s also plenty of advice on how you can deal with this scenario.