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If you have more than one child, it’s guaranteed that you’ve experienced sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry can take the form of arguing, name-calling, tattling, physical fighting, competition and comparison, taking one another’s belongings, and other behaviors.
For parents, dealing with sibling rivalry is frustrating, exhausting, and upsetting. Most parents dream of their children being loving, kind, and supportive of one another.
Use these strategies to minimize sibling rivalry and help your children form a loving bond!
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Understanding Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry is normal and even inevitable. It’s important to understand although you can minimize the bickering, you’ll never eliminate it entirely.
Siblings squabble because of jealousy, competition, conflicting needs and temperaments, and sometimes out of boredom or even as a way to connect with one another or gain attention from you.
Believe it or not, there are even some benefits to sibling rivalry. It can help children learn to navigate power struggles, compromise, manage and resolve conflicts, set boundaries and be assertive, and more.
Ultimately, the goal is not to eliminate sibling rivalry. The goal is to use conflicts as teaching moments, maximizing the possible benefits of sibling rivalry.
At the same time, you can put rules, structure, and connection-building practices in place that will reduce unhealthy and excessive sibling warfare.
7 Key Strategies to Manage Sibling Rivalry and Conflicts
1. Establish Family Rules
In collaboration with your children, create and post clear family rules to help minimize conflict. Rules related to sibling conflict may include no hitting, using words to solve the problem, asking before using something that belongs to someone else, calling each other by their names (not mean words), etc.
2. Define Family Values
It’s also helpful to establish shared family values like respect, kindness, and supporting one another. Creating a family manifesto is a great way to provide a sense of unity and direction for your family. Again, getting the children involved in the creation process makes this strategy far more powerful.
The Connection & Positivity Kit contains a build-your-own family manifesto poster you can use for this step.
3. Encourage Empathy and Kindness
Empathy and kindness are teachable skills. Teach children to identify and understand the emotions of others by
- modeling these values yourself.
- celebrating when you see your children demonstrate them too. Use specific language: “You helped your sister tie her shoes!” (by focusing on the kind and helpful acts, you’ll encourage more of them).
- doing the activities from the Kindness & Community Kit which promotes kindness and empathy and can enhance your child’s capacity to care about others.
For more ideas, refer to the articles key strategies to teach empathy and how to raise kind and caring children. You may also be interested in the Top 30 Kindness and Friendship Movies for Families and 35 Cooperative Games for Kids that promote sharing, teamwork, empathy, and kindness.
4. Model Healthy Conflict Resolution
Children learn social skills from observing the adults in their lives. Model the use of “I feel” statements rather than blaming, and active listening rather than ignoring or minimizing the feelings of others. You can also model cooling down when you’re upset, navigating healthy compromise, and treating others with respect.
If you struggle with managing emotions/conflict, now is a great time to start practicing! After all, it will be difficult to teach or model skills you haven’t learned yet.
As you slip up along the way (as is natural), own your mistakes. Say something like, “Oops. I should have taken a minute to cool down before I said that. Are you willing to let me try again?” This, too, teaches a valuable lesson to your children.
Use the Calming Strategies for Caregivers poster included in the Resilience Kit. When difficult moments arise we, as caregivers, need a plan to pause and regain calm (and model this response to our kids). Place this simple and elegant poster somewhere you can see it often.
5. Let them Problem-Solve
With minor sibling squabbles, it’s a good idea to let your children navigate the issue themselves. If the conflict escalates, you will need to intervene. Before intervening, take a minute to gain your composure so that you can model healthy problem-solving and a calm response to conflict.
Then follow these steps:
- Allow both children time to express their viewpoint, reminding them to use appropriate and helpful language if necessary. Reflect their viewpoints back to them: “So you’re saying…?”
- Acknowledge the feelings of both children and frame the conflict. “You want to watch different TV shows, but there’s only one TV. How can we solve this problem?”
- Take suggestions for resolutions from your children. If they struggle, offer a few ideas, like taking turns choosing what to watch or agreeing on a TV show that both children enjoy.
- Together, commit to trying a solution, then go back to the drawing board as needed. This is a powerful problem-solving that will benefit your children for a lifetime.
Use the My Problem-Solving printable to guide you through this process (Self-Esteem & Confidence Kit)
6. Teach Calming Strategies
Teach children calming techniques like deep breathing, journaling, squeezing a pillow or stress ball, etc. Remind them screaming, calling names, and hitting will only escalate the conflict. If they calm down first, they can find a helpful solution.
It may also be necessary to give your children some time to cool off before solving the problem. Separate the children and send them to different areas of the home to calm down as needed. Don’t frame this as a time-out. You can say, “We’re going to solve this problem together, but you need to take a few minutes to calm down first.”
Refer to My Strategies to Feel Calm poster for quick and effective ideas. Emotional regulation is a crucial skill for children to learn.
7. Teach Assertiveness
Conflicts between siblings also provide an opportunity to teach children about assertiveness and boundaries. Provide words that children can use to set boundaries and teach others how they would like to be treated. For example, you might say, “Tell your brother, ‘I don’t like it when you call me names. My name is Jonah. Call me that instead.’”
This strategy is especially effective when children tattle. Although tattling is frustrating for adults, it shows that your children trust you to help them solve problems. When our response honors this trust, it’s more likely that our children will continue to talk to us about their issues, even as teenagers.
Instead of reprimanding children for tattling, teach them the words to use in moments of conflict. As they learn assertiveness, the tattling will decrease.
Using similar language, be sure to teach children what to do in moments of conflict. For instance, instead of simply telling children not to push, tell them to say “excuse me” when they want their sibling to move. It may seem obvious to us, but children need to be directly taught healthy social skills.
How You Can Foster Positive Sibling Relationships
1. Avoid Feeding The Comparisons/Competition
Don’t make comparisons between your children, and be sure to treat siblings equally and fairly. Having a clear set of rules helps ensure fair and consistent treatment.
2. Spend Time With Your Children Both Together And Separately
It can be difficult to make time for each individual child but try setting aside a day each month or even an occasional half-hour to focus on one sibling.
Providing your children with individual attention may reduce some competitive behaviors.
The key elements of connection are eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness, so be sure to engage in all four elements with each of your children regularly.
For older children, joint attention (watching the same movie, playing the same game, laughing at the same joke) is effective.
The Big Life Journal is a wonderful way to connect with your child. You can be their journal buddy and explore growth mindset concepts together.
3. Use Routines
This will ensure that your home feels safe and structured, limiting chaos and conflict. Make sure that children understand your rules, expectations, and routines.
Are there any situations or times of day that seem especially difficult for your children to navigate? Adding routines and structure may help.
Need some ideas for successful morning and bedtime routines? Check out our guides and printables located in the Connection & Positivity Kit!
4. Encourage Positive Relationships - Don’t Force It
Encourage your children to respect their siblings and be there for one another, emphasize what behaviors are not tolerated, and remind them that they can ask you for help resolving conflicts when they need it.
Stop short of trying to force your children to be best friends, however, as this may cause resentment and rebellion. Take comfort in the fact that many sibling issues will resolve themselves with time.
5. Promote Family Activities That Build Connection, Belonging, And Unity
Use this list of 41 family rituals. Present the idea of your family (and therefore the siblings) as a team. If you play family games, put the siblings on one team and the parents on another.
6. Incorporate a Sibling Ritual Into Your Nighttime Routine
They could always say “I love you,” or “goodnight” to one another, give a high five, a hug, a secret handshake, etc.
7. Notice The Activities That Get Your Children Playing Together And Encourage Them
Similarly, avoid interrupting happy play between your children. Encourage singing, dancing, laughter, and other activities that increase oxytocin and bonding. Check out our list of songs that inspire growth mindset here.
8. Teach Your Children to Take Care of Each Other
When one child is hurt, send a sibling for the Band-Aids or ice pack. If one child is sad, ask a sibling to hand her some Kleenex. Promote small ways that your children can look out for and offer empathy to one another.
9. Remember That in Any Conflict, No Sibling is Right or Wrong, Good or Bad
Focus on compromise, conflict resolution, and unity, and your children will do the same.
If sibling rivalry has you at your wit’s end, take a deep breath and remember: It’s natural, normal, and even inevitable.
Instead of trying to stamp it out entirely, focus on building a safe, structured, and connected home environment.
Then, use the sibling squabbles as a force for good. Utilize these conflicts to teach your children essential life skills like emotional regulation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and assertiveness. Even if the disputes continue, your children will learn to handle them in a healthy and constructive way.