Sibling conflict tends to be an inevitable part of many families lives. When this happens children are on the look out for provoking each other and making the other one wrong; there is animosity and competition between them.
It can show up as aggression, jealousy, name-calling and bullying, which can be very disruptive to the whole family, as well as ruining sibling relationships…sometimes forever. The younger the children, the more sensitive they are, and the more over-stimulated their lives, the worse the conflicts can be. There is never an easy answer but there are some ways to help in the moment and to consider.
- Firstly, we can appreciate that for young children, there are many things in life that just don’t go their way and there can be underlying hurts and insecurities that are bubbling beneath the surface. These are fertile conditions for the growth of anger, frustration and competition between siblings. Parents need to give space and support for the expression of children’s feelings, and help them offload their frustrations, rather than reprimanding them for behaviour which they can’t control in the heat of the moment.
- Secondly, we must aim for the children to see each other differently. So parents become the matchmakers and spin-doctors, finding positive resolutions and showing how they are similar to each other (in positive ways!). Seeing similarities strengthens relationships.
- Furthemore, parents can actively encourage children to follow the parents’ lead and reduce their tendency to trip over each other. Be their Alpha so they don’t have to rely on each other. Structure their time together so they are helping out with you or being directed by you, and reduce their free time without you in sight.
- Childrens’ healthy attachment to parents is key to their cooperation and maturity. Plus, how parents treat them will impact how they feel about each other. You can’t make a child feel sorry or feel forgiveness, but you can model caring and help them feel their feelings.
- In the moment, act fast, separate fast, and support them individually: separate them, use distractions, stay with the one who is most upset, listen and allow their upset out.
Patience, understanding and maturation will eventually win over sibling rivalry.
By Laura Newman MSc