Sibling Rivalry Solutions: 4 Life-Changing Truths Every Parent Should Know
Kids fighting again? Find real solutions with these powerful truths that will forever change the way you view and respond to sibling rivalry.
Do you ever feel like more of a referee than a parent?
You spend so much time just trying to survive the arguments, name-calling and even full-on brawls, only to wonder if there is any hope for your kids. Will they ever have a close relationship?
Let’s face it – being a parent is hard enough. But the added stress of constant fighting can get overwhelming. Fast.
And while sibling rivalry is an unavoidable consequence of having more than one child, there are solutions to help you manage it.
You don’t have to have a home where fighting is the norm.
In fact, with the right principles and tools, you can eliminate most feuds before they even start – and know exactly how to respond to the ones that do.
Knowing when and how to use your precious energy wisely will help get your home back to a place where peace – not fighting – is the norm. (Well, most of the time anyway!)
And who knows, your kids might just grow up to reminisce and laugh about some of the fights they used to have.
4 TRUTHS ABOUT SIBLING RIVALRY EVERY PARENT SHOULD KNOW
When the fighting begins, your first reaction might be to step in and stop the conflict – but before you do, there are a few important things you should know…
TRUTH 1: THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SIBLING RIVALRY AND SIBLING CONFLICT
Wait, there’s a difference?
Yes, and the answer might surprise you.
Contrary to popular belief, not all fighting is sibling rivalry. In fact, most fights actually fall under the umbrella of “sibling conflict.”
Here’s how to tell the difference:
Sibling conflict is conflict between siblings. Pretty simple, right? Sibling rivalry, on the other hand, happens when parents insert themselves into the conflict.
In fact, research shows us that siblings actually fight more often and with more intensity when there is a parent present. And those who routinely intervene can actually prolong the conflicts, unknowingly setting the stage for them to happen again.
Of course, you should definitely intervene if there is danger of physical harm (more on that in a minute), but if there’s no danger – don’t intervene! No matter how hard it is.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to continue to use the terms sibling rivalry and sibling conflict interchangeably – since that’s what people are familiar with – but remember that in reality, they’re two very different things.
TRUTH 2: THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO STOP SIBLING FIGHTING
Of all the solutions out there promising to end sibling rivalry forever, there’s only one that will truly work – not having siblings.
But eliminating siblings isn’t the solution we’re looking for here, so it’s time to shift our perspective and accept that siblings are going to fight.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “But I don’t want that in my home!”
Well unfortunately, it’s going to be in your home. It’s in my home. It’s in your neighbor’s home. Essentially, it’s in every home that has siblings. Because it’s a perfectly natural part of childhood.
In fact, studies have found that on average, siblings engage in some kind of conflict every 10-20 minutes!
Our adult brains look at sibling rivalry and see violence. We see anger, aggression and conflict – and it makes us uncomfortable. We want it to stop.
But what we’re actually witnessing is the maturance of our children’s brains – the amygdala to be exact. This is the part of the brain responsible for emotions that help us weigh danger and elicit a fear response (fight, flight or freeze), among other behaviors.
In boys, this maturation looks like punching, kicking, wrestling, elbowing a sibling as they walk by, or any other way they assert themselves kinesthetically.
In girls, it looks like yelling, belittling, making fun of a sibling, ignoring, drama, and other verbal attacks.
Either way, kids are finding opportunities to experiment with the pecking order and assert themselves – no different than wrestling puppies or other developing animals.
And believe it or not, all that aggression is part of a developing brain.
TRUTH 3: NOT ALL AGGRESSION IS BAD
Aggression isn’t usually a trait parents desire for their children. After all, it’s associated with undesirable behaviors like violence, physical or emotional harm, or destruction of property.
But what creates strong leaders? Children with a strong sense of self? Confident, capable kids who know how to call on their inner hero and be resilient enough to reach their goals?
Yes, aggression might serve a negative purpose at times. But it’s also the very thing that gives kids the strength to challenge fear, overcome difficulties, work hard, and stand up for what they believe in.
But can kids develop both ways? Can they mature to be kind, empathetic, gentle, and generous, and develop this type of aggression and grit?
Yes! And the best part is – we don’t have to teach it all!
You see, siblings play a vital role in each other’s development. Even when they are doing everything to push each other’s buttons, they’re learning important lessons like how to:
- Deal with conflict
- Compromise and negotiate
- Discern what’s socially appropriate
- See things from another person’s perspective
- Set their own limits
- Control their aggressive impulses
- Make up after a fight (or let things go and move on)
And although they hardly realize it…they’re actually bonding.
TRUTH 4: NOT ALL SIBLING RIVALRY IS ACCEPTABLE
Up to this point, we’ve gone over why it’s okay – and even healthy – for siblings to fight. But there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
Your kids are family, after all. And your role is to help them learn what’s acceptable in your home. This will be different for every family, but in general, violence and emotional harm are never okay.
Let your kids know what the limits are and then teach to those limits often. Teach your children about value, respect, and character often, both in everyday settings and in more formal lessons.
WHEN THINGS GET VIOLENT:
Kids are going to fight, and for the most part, parents should stay out of the way. But parents also have the responsibility to keep their kids safe. So if things are starting to turn violent or dangerous – it’s time to step in.
But no one wants to walk straight into the middle of a raging physical fight! So if you do have to step into a violent situation, follow this 3-step formula:
STEP ONE: Get your children’s attention. (Even if you have to raise your voice just to be heard!) Make eye contact, and if possible, touch them in a safe way and get close.
STEP TWO: Use a calm, but firm voice to say, “That is not acceptable behavior in this home.”
STEP THREE: Get your kids to tell you what the correct behavior is by asking, “What are you supposed to be doing?”
Once you’re able to deescalate the situation, you can coach them to a workable solution, if necessary.
Sibling rivalry can easily make you question your abilities as a parent (and make you want to pull your hair out) – but it’s not a reflection of your parenting, and you don’t have to have all the solutions.
Remember, your only role is to keep it within a tolerable range.
Decide well in advance what you can handle, and how far you’re willing to let things go before getting involved. And if you do need to intervene, let it be as a coach.
Encourage your kids to resolve the crisis themselves, but stand beside them as a support and a guide.
PROVEN SOLUTIONS FOR STOPPING SIBLING RIVALRY BEFORE IT STARTS
While it’s impossible to guarantee that your kids will never fight again, there are a few tricks that will help them fight less.
And surprisingly, one of them isn’t more time with you.
Of course, I am a strong proponent of fostering a healthy parent-child relationship, and I think it’s important to spend time alone with our kids whenever we can squeeze it in.
But many conventional parenting methods tell parents that the reason kids fight is because the parents aren’t spending enough one-on-one time with each child. Translation: more guilt and stress for parents.
Remember, studies show that on average, kids fight multiple times every hour – even when all the children in the family get plenty of attention! In fact, “fighting for parents’ attention ranks dead last in the list of what brothers and sisters say they fight over.”
Hopefully that takes some of the guilt off of your shoulders.
So what are some effective solutions for stopping sibling rivalry? Here are 3 proven strategies for stopping the squabbles before they even start:
1. LEARN THE TRIGGERS
Have you ever yelled at your kids before?
Did you know that wasn’t the best idea? Sure. Do you generally try to refrain from yelling? Of course.
But does it still happen sometimes? Absolutely. In fact, you may have thought, “But I had to yell this time, because…”
Well, your child that just lost it on their sibling is probably thinking that exact same thing. “I had to yell, because…”
Siblings fight for many reasons, but all of their fights have the same root cause: they’re siblings. But you can help avoid some of the conflict by knowing what triggers their anger. Here are some of the most common triggers:
- Feeling tired
- Being hungry
- Not feeling well
- Being overstimulated, or needing some time alone
- Stress, especially over something important coming up or over something hard that happened earlier in the day
But above all, one of the most common things kids fight over is turf. Space, personal possessions, turns using something…these are all things that kids desperately want to feel some control over.
After all, kids deserve to have some things that are just theirs. Things that they have complete control over.
We should definitely teach our kids the importance of kindness, inclusion, and sharing. But it’s also important for kids to feel ownership over a few things in their lives.
As their parents, we can back them up by helping them safeguard their personal turf. We can teach our kids about respecting others’ property, and we can provide space for each child to keep the things that are most important to them, even if it’s as simple as a small basket in the playroom that is just theirs.
2. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR POSITIVE INTERACTIONS
As parents, we want our kids to do more than just live together. We want them to actually like each other – and even want to be together. (At least most of the time!)
But you probably know by now that forcing your kids to share and spend time alone together isn’t going to produce those results. Instead, try to find ways to balance out the negative by creating more opportunities for positive interactions and memories.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. But creating a strong family identity is a great place to start. Here are a few ideas to take to the drawing board:
- Give kids responsibilities and opportunities to contribute to the family.
- Approach the family unit like a team, where every member is valued and needed.
- Go on walks and spend time outside together.
- Play games together and have dance parties.
- Set goals together.
- Hold family meetings.
- Find ways to serve together.
- Make memories outside of the home, even if it’s just going to the neighborhood pond to throw rocks in the water.
This is just scratching the surface for fostering strong sibling relationships, of course. Just keep in mind that no positive interaction is wasted!
3. MODEL CONFLICT RESOLUTION
And finally, one last way to cope with sibling rivalry is to show your kids how to deal with conflict.
This can look like apologizing when you lose your temper. Or teaching your kids what to do when they’re mad at their siblings by giving them words to use. Or even helping them discover ways to manage their own anger and feel calm.
In the end, sibling rivalry can be hard to deal with, but there are solutions that can help you manage it. The principles in this article can help guide your decisions, and help you keep the perspective that all the fighting…it’s just part of growing up.
OTHER HELPFUL POSTS:
- 10 Simple Ways To Teach Kids To Be Kind
- 7 Easy And Fun Mindfulness Activities For Kids
- When Kids Just Won’t Cooperate: 3 Ways To Move Beyond Threats
- 180+ Positive Affirmations For Kids To Boost Motivation And Confidence
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