How to Survive Sibling Rivalry

sibling rivalry
There are ways to deal with sibling rivalry, says Jane Rogers

Although my children are now in their twenties I still remember how stressful I found the whole sibling rivalry thing.

Then at the tail end of one summer holiday, when I was feeling particularly desperate for the school term to start again, I had a sudden ‘lightbulb’ moment.

What I was doing wasn’t working, so why keep doing it?

At the time I had a friend who had four children all under the age of ten. I remember thinking I don’t know how she does it. She always seemed so calm and laid back, and for the most part her children just got on with each other.

After spending some time observing the way she dealt with things when her kids did squabble, and reading a few articles on the subject of sibling rivalry I came up with a plan and put just three new ideas in place.

1. Think: ‘What do I want my kids to learn?’

Many of these stressful situations can actually present a good opportunity to teach your kids how to handle disagreements. Instead of reacting in the moment in can be really useful to take a different approach and ask yourself: ‘What can I teach my child at this moment / what do I want them to learn?

It can be tempting to shout, and if you do, you are not alone, squabbling children can be truly exasperating. But what are they learning when the parent shouts at them? Not much.

A better approach if you have decided to intervene would be this:
‘I see you two have a problem, what’s wrong?’ (said calmly)
Brother then says sister is hogging the laptop, sister says no she is not and brother keeps trying to snatch it from her.

‘Ummm, that is a problem, only one laptop and you both want it’ (said calmly)

You might then ask your children what the answer to this problem is.
If they don’t know, give them some guidance. If they agree to the solution you have found together and the problem is solved, praise them for their ‘good’ behaviour ‘Well done you worked it out, that was sensible.’

What have they learnt?

That when you have a disagreement with someone, the best thing to do is to talk about it calmly and try to come up with a solution or compromise. And you the parent have role modelled how to stay calm and treat people with respect, even if they are getting on your nerves.

2. Time apart

Works particularly well in the school holidays and on wet weekends when just being with each other all the time can lead to squabbles and disagreements.

Provided your kids are old enough and can manage time entertaining themselves alone, have a rule that at a particular time of day, after lunch for example, everyone spends some time on their own doing something they want to (including you, no rushing round tidying up, sit down for half an hour with a cup of tea and the paper!).

Talk about this before you put the rule in place and get everyone to say what they might do, ask them what they think the benefits of this quiet time might be. Make this a regular part of your routine and try to re-group and do something nice together afterwards.

Make sure you tell your kids that you enjoy being with them, such a simple thing, but so easily forgotten when being with them can often be so stressful!

3. Ignore them as much as you can

At times you may choose to intervene, but there are good reasons why you should try to ignore some of this behaviour. I don’t mean the stuff where someone is going to get hurt, or the type of sibling rivalry that is beginning to look like bullying, just the low level bickering, arguing, complaining, tale telling etc.

You know the kind of thing I mean: ‘Muuuum, he’s annoying me, tell him to stop……. Muuum tell her to stop getting in the way of the telly, she’s doing it on purpose…..Muuuum she sprayed water at me’…. ‘no I didn’t, you shouldn’t have got in the way’ ‘Muuuuum she did it again….Waaaah!

I used to get this sort of thing from my boys a lot, and I did ignore it when I could, and by ‘ignore’ I mean I would maybe say something like ‘I’m sure you can sort it out’ or ‘oh dear, I’m sure you can sort it out,’ or ‘that’s a shame, I’m sure you can sort it out.’

If the child then said no they couldn’t and demanded that the culprit be brought to the ‘Mum’ court of law to pass sentence, I would repeat ‘I’m sure you can sort it out’ (as many times as necessary, it’s called the ‘broken record’ technique) I would in these circumstances refuse to get drawn in, and it really did work, they started to sort minor problems themselves.

Why ignore?

  • They might sort it out.
  • If you let it push your buttons every time, it will happen all the more, you will end up giving a lot of negative attention.
  • You might find yourself defending the younger one more often.
  • Conflict & differences are part of life.
  • To save your own sanity.

Constant arguing and fighting can be very wearing for everybody, I was tearing my hair out with my boys until I decided to do something differently.

Now they are grown up, it is lovely to see that they are close and get on really well, I never thought I would see that day!

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