Sibling rivalry dates back as far as Cain and Abel — but learning how to prevent sibling spats, knowing what to do when fights break out and stopping sibling abuse can bring peace into your home.
Sibling rivalry is a common part of growing up with brothers or sisters. While fighting with a sibling can teach your children valuable conflict management skills, managing a quarrel between siblings is often more a frustrating inconvenience than a teachable moment.
Use these tips to prevent fighting, jealousy and anger between siblings:
- Make sure basic needs are being met. Hunger and sleep deprivation can make kids grumpy and prone to fighting. Kids may also fight in order to get attention from one or both parents. See to it that children get one-on-one time every day with both parents.
- Teach and reward positive behavior. Educate kids about how to express themselves with kindness, such as asking for toys instead of just taking them.
- Don’t compare. Comparing siblings can increase feelings of jealousy.
- Don’t put labels on children. Labeling one child “the smart one” or “the pretty one” can put unreasonable expectations on kids and create competition between siblings.
- Despite every precaution, siblings will still squabble sometimes. Before apologies or explanations are made, give your children time to calm down apart from their sibling or siblings.
- Be as fair as possible in giving out punishment, no matter who started what. Avoid taking sides when children explain what happened, and make sure each child understands what he or she did wrong.
Crossing the Line
Some level of conflict between siblings is normal. However, a pattern of excessive aggression or violence from one sibling toward another is sibling abuse.
Sibling abuse occurs four to five times more often than parental or spousal abuse, making it the most common form of family violence. While some parents may see physical fights among siblings as normal, research has shown that bullying among siblings is just as damaging to a child’s self-worth and mental health as bullying in school by a non-family member.
Sibling abuse is preventable. Never ignore or excuse physical violence among siblings. Always listen to a child who says he or she has been victimized. Research also suggests that giving one sibling excessive power over another can lead to sibling abuse, so make sure kids are under adult supervision until all the children are mature enough to take care of themselves.