Sibling rivalry: How to help your children be friends

sibling rivalry: how to encourage your children to be friends

When haven’t siblings argued?

Think of Cain and Abel or poor Cinderella and those stepsisters of hers. The fact is that siblings don’t choose their families and they don’t choose each other – so they fight.

For parents, however, sibling rivalry can be very aggravating, frustrating and stressful and can continue throughout childhood.

Unfortunately, the conflict often starts right after the birth of your second child. As tiresome as this is when you’re struggling with a new baby, I urge you to remember how hard it must be for your firstborn.

It’s a bit like your husband or partner coming home one day and saying:

“You know I love you very much, but I met someone that I love just as much as you and I want to invite her to live here with us. Our home will be her home and I need you to move some of the things out of the drawers and cupboard in your bedroom to make room for her things.

It’s going to be busy with her in the house so I won’t have as much time as I had for you. But I want you to love her, just the way I do! I want you to share everything nicely and kindly with her including your bedroom and me. It’s so exciting!”

How would that make you feel?!

I know I would feel jealous and deeply upset. I would find it hard to hide my feelings of anger and frustration. I would want to compete for my loved one’s attention and I would want to hurt the interloper!

The great thing, though, is siblings can form a very special bond if their parents will only give them the space and guidance to allow them to work out their relationship.

Parents can find it discomforting to observe conflict between their children, they can find themselves jumping into the role of judge and jury.

But by allowing children the space and time to safely work things out they will in turn learn key lessons: how to negotiate, how to express their point of view. They will have to practice listening and responding to each other.

So how can you do this?

First, remember that sibling rivalry is normal; it comes from your children’s need for your attention and love so don’t make them supress the way they are feeling but help them by doing the following:

Try to avoid situations that breed rivalry by setting the scene for peace by using house rules and routines.

  • When an argument occurs, DON’T step in and be the referee. Let them try to work it out first and then, when things have calmed down, find time to talk about it.
  • Get down to your children’s level and take a deep breath.
  • Listen with empathy so your children feel heard and understood. Help them to name the way they are feeling as this will help them calm down enabling them to better able to use their thinking skills to solve the problem.
  • Validate the way they are feeling as in a similar way, recognising a feeling and giving it a name helps a child to use the information that they receive from that feeling to move on.
  • Understand the cause of their feelings, if you understand the causes of the emotion you can be more effective in guiding them to use positive strategies to help themselves like e.g. self talk, reframing the situation, communicating, “How could that have done that better?” “What could you have done?”
  • Try to get your children to see the others point of view, this helps develop empathy a great life skill.

Start early; it’s easy for bad habits to become an accepted family norm just as it’s easy for positive activity to become a healthy family way of life!

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