Sibling rivalry can create a draining backdrop of fighting, conflict and negative attitudes between your children, along with harsh accusations and complaints of parental unfair treatment.
This article will outline some useful strategies for helping your children handle some of the sibling-related intense feelings and encouraging more harmonous sibling relationships.
Don't Dismiss Negative Sibling Feelings
Acknowledge them! Telling your child that they should not feel angry, jealous, inferior etc will not take away their feelings; they will still feel their orginial feelings as well as feeling frustrated at being dismissed and sad at not being understood.
If your child expresses negative feelings towards their brother or sister, acknowledge how they feel. For example:
"You're always spending time with the baby"
"Don't be silly, I just played with you" - Feels dismissed
"You don't like me spending so much time with him?" - Feels listened to
Give Your Child in Fantasy What They Don't Have in Reality
"I wish he was never born"
"Sometimes you wish he wasn't here?"
Give Your Child an Outlet for Their Hostile Feelings
"No hurting your brother. Show me how you feel with this doll / Draw me a picture of how you feel"
Curtail aggressive or hurtful behaviour.
Show Your Child Better Ways to Express Their Anger
"No hitting! Tell your sister how you feel / Tell her what you'd like, try saying 'ask me before borrowing my toys'.
Avoid Comparisons - Favourable or Unfavourable
Natural feelings of competition between siblings can be made a lot worse by adult comparisons eg "Why cant you clean up after yourself, your sister's always so clean and tidy"
Whatever you want to say to your child, stick to whatever the issue is with that particular child's behaviour. Describe what you want done, what you like, what you dislike. Avoid reference to their sibling.
Remember even favourable comparisons can be unhelpful - they inevitably involve putting one child down and put the favourably compared child in an uncomfortable position of living up to a positive label.
|Unhelpful Comparisons||Describe what you see/|
|what needs to be done|
|"Well done I can always rely on you to get things done, unlike your sister who's totally disorganised"||"When I ask you do things, I know I can rely on you"|
|"Where are your table manners? At least we can rely on Jimmy to always eat nicely"||"Katie, please use your knife and fork"|
|"Why can't you tidy up after yourself? Your sister's always so neat"||"I can see lots of clothes on your bedroom floor"|
Don't Lock Your Children in Fixed Roles
It's common for adults to cast children according to certain roles. Age-assigned roles are particularly common: "big boy" "the little one". Whilst children do have special talents and characters and such positive attributes need recognising.
Fixing a child in a particular role can often be at the expense of other siblings. For example, defining Jimmy as "outgoing" in some way excludes his sister from this attribute; she may easily fall into being "the shy one".
Roles Can Lead to Resentment
Inferiority and envy between siblings can quickly build up.
The 'brainy' one may wish they were the 'beautiful' one and vice versa. What's more, occupying positive roles can be anxiety provoking for a role child. If you're the "reliable" one, how do you feel if you have a disorganised day?
Let Your Children Step Out of Roles
Look for opportunities for your younger child to be responsible and let your younger child be babyish now and then. If you have a child who's 'scatty' give them something to organise. For a 'naughty' child, watch out for good behaviour and comment approvingly.
It's Not Fair! What to Say
First of all, consider if there is any truth in the comment. Is it always one child who says this? If so check out how he is feeling and think about your behaviour toward him.
Generally, however "it's not fair" is more of an empty accusation. If you take such comments seriously, so will your children and you will find yourself measuring every crumb of food and toting up ever penny spent!
The best solution is to give according to need rather than trying to always be equal.
"That's not fair she's got more than me!"
"Oh are you still hungry?"
"Are you hungry enough for a whole extra slice or just a half?"
"Mummy I want to tell you something! Mummy! You've been talking to Jimmy for ages!"
"You're right I have been spending lots of time with Jimmy but he's stuck with his maths homework. I know it's not easy to wai,t but when I'm finished I will be right there to hear what's on your mind"
Who Do You Love Best? What to Say
This is a common and vexing question for parents. Many parents are frustrated by how reassurance of equal love is not a satisfactory response for children.
"I love you the same amount" will not reassure your child because a) they are likely to think you are "just saying that" and b) to be loved equally somehow infers they are not loved specially.
When your child poses this question, answer it by showing how she is loved uniquely.
"Each of you is special to me in different ways. You are the only you. No one has your lovely smile and your great way of giving cuddles. No one in the whole wide world could replace you."
Note: In showing your child how special they are, focus on the child you are talking to and do not make comparisons with their siblings
Some techniques described in this article draw on strategies outlined in the useful book: Siblings without Rivalry by Faber & Mazlish (2004)