What causes sibling rivalry and how do you decrease it?
Sibling rivalry and fights between siblings are a normal, yet frustrating, part of growing up. In fact, it can actually promote the healthy learning of many different skills. When siblings argue with each other, it teaches them how to communicate their feelings, stand up for and defend themselves. While disagreeing and arguing are healthy parts of growing up, sibling rivalry that becomes destructive, aggressive or physical will require parent intervention. Many parents are finding that the pandemic and quarantine has only increased this problem. Here are some of our tips on understanding and decreasing sibling rivalry.
First, it is important to consider why the sibling rivalry is occurring. Here are three common reasons why children fight:
- One of the major reasons that siblings fight is for attention. One sibling may be resentful of the attention another sibling gets, which causes frustration. When the siblings fight, the frustrated child gets attention. This sibling does not care that the attention is negative and in the form of yelling or consequences. They just want the attention.
- If there is a major difference in abilities or intelligence. This can create jealously and competition between siblings.
- If children sense tension or problems in their parents’ relationship. Children may act out by fighting with each other, in order to divert attention from their parents’ problems.
So what can you do?
- Learn which arguments to ignore and which to intervene in. In situations where the argument is minor, it may be best to ignore the situation. If children are arguing for attention, intervening only reinforces their negative behaviors. Ignoring will teach the children that they will not get attention for negative behaviors. It helps them learn to problem solve with each other instead. It is important to note that this is only with minor incidents. Any incidents that escalate to a physical level require intervention.
- Help your children learn and practice problem solving skills. These discussions work best when everyone is calm. For young children, it may be helpful to start these conversations using toys or puppets where you can role-play problems and solutions. This prepares them for real life problems where you can prompt them to use the skills that they learned.
- Reinforce your children’s positive behaviors and interactions with each other. When your children are getting along and playing well together, make sure you take notice. Use labeled, verbal praise by complimenting the specific behavior you appreciate. Setting a reward program can also help motivate your children to display positive behaviors with each other. For example, set a specific amount of time that you wish for your children to get along. If they are able to do it, they earn a small prize like a sticker. After that, increase the reward with each new, larger goal.
- Children need to learn self-regulation skills and have consequences for their behaviors. Timeout can assist children with self-regulation skills. When children become aggressive towards each other or property, it is important to intervene and place all children involved into a timeout. This will remove them from the situation and help calm them down. Natural and logical consequences can also be helpful. For example, if the children are arguing over who gets to use the tablet first, the tablet is removed.
- Lastly, try to remember that sibling rivalry and arguing is normal. These behaviors do not mean that your children do not have a strong relationship.
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