Harmonious Sibling Relationships: Navigating the Path to Rivalry Solutions

by Erika Robertson
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The hope of having more than one child is to provide your children with a family member who will grow up with them and support them long past moving out of the house. However, even the best parents can have children who find themselves in a sibling rivalry.

But no worries, this is a common problem. Countless experts have weighed in with their best tips and advice on how to smooth the relationship between your children. Some of the best sibling rivalry solutions are compiled below.

kids playing with parachute Photo Credit: Artem Kniaz (Unsplash)
Photo Credits: Artem Kniaz (Unsplash)

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It’s important to note that, as a parent, while sibling rivalry can be natural, it is unlikely to resolve without parental intervention. Many parents make the mistake of addressing the surface-level problems resulting from sibling rivalry rather than taking the time to understand what may be causing the rivalry in the first place.

For example, if you witness your children having a fight, a surface-level solution would be threatening punishment if they don’t stop shouting at each other. While you may have temporarily eased the fighting, that type of solution will not prevent the fighting from happening again. Instead, you may want to think deeply about what the fight was about, what has been going on in their lives lately, and why whoever started it might have done so.

Establishing Rules

Sign that says please stay on path Photo credit: Mark Duffel via Unsplash
Photo credit: Mark Duffel via Unsplash

First and foremost, as a parent, it is key to establish a set of rules and values your children must adhere to. By setting clear expectations for your sons and daughters, they know exactly how to avoid disappointing you. It’s much easier to tell your child in advance, “Do not raise your voice at your sister,” and set the expectation rather than wait until the problem occurs. Additionally, it can be helpful to establish in advance what the punishment may be for violating these rules. This way, your child won’t be surprised when their mother or father becomes upset with them and revokes a privilege.

Additionally, a big part of establishing rules that your children will want to follow is to be a good role model and follow them yourself. If you tell your children that it is a family rule not to yell, but then yell at your co-parent or spouse in front of them, that is not setting a clear expectation. It may foster resentment and confusion for your children, as well as discourage them from listening to you.

Moreover, it’s highly beneficial to not only focus on punishing bad behavior but to reward positive behaviors too. For example, maybe your children had previously been fighting over sharing playing cards for their favorite game, such as Yu-Gi-Oh! Oftentimes, children fight over shared interests because they feel they may be missing out by having to share with their sibling.

However, after practicing good communication and teamwork, you can see they are playing well together. As a reward, you could get them some new Yu-Gi-Oh! boxes and show them that the more they get along, the better playtime will be! Showing praise for positive behavior is much more effective than punishing bad behavior, according to Psychology Today.

Yu-Gi-Oh! cards Photo Credit: Jovan Vasiljevic via Unsplash
Photo Credit: Jovan Vasiljevic via Unsplash

Communication and Conflict Resolution

It is paramount to teach your children healthy communication and conflict-resolution skills. Active listening, trust, and cooperation are crucial to harmonious sibling relationships. You should practice these skills prior to your children fighting, so that they only have to practice when they’re upset rather than learn. For example, you could practice active listening on the drive home from school. Give each child a set period of time to talk about their day, in which the rest of the car—including the adults—must engage in active listening until it is the next child’s turn.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for a child to struggle with mental health and anxiety. Many times, during conflict, your children may be fighting simply because one or more of them don’t know how to regulate their emotions effectively yet. The first step in emotional regulation is to be able to recognize and identify which emotions they are feeling at the moment. Then, you can teach techniques such as deep breathing, asking for help, and other methods to help calm down.

Addressing Favoritism

Every parent may say they don’t have a favorite child, but it’s hard to completely avoid perceptions of favoritism, even if unintentional. Researchers describe this as “differential parental treatment,” according to the American Psychological Association. It’s necessary for parents to engage in consistent self-reflection to ensure their children are being treated fairly. A common trap that parents may fall into is if one child tends to be more poorly behaved than the other, so one receives more rewards and the other more punishments.

This is especially obvious when your children have a shared interest, such as watching Formula 1. For instance, let’s say both children want F1 clothing, but only one of them did well enough on an exam to receive the reward. By rewarding one child with the same gift the other wanted, it may lead to heightened jealousy.

While your intention is not to make one child seem like the favorite, that is likely how your child may interpret their consequences. If you notice a pattern like this occurring, take some time to figure out possible causes for your child’s poor behavior. In some cases, it may be wise to seek professional help if your child is struggling with their mental health.

kids sitting on counter Photo credit: Getty Images via Unsplash
Photo credit: Getty Images via Unsplash

The Value of Having Siblings

Oftentimes, our siblings are the longest relationships of our lives. Moreover, they’re the most important peer relationships we have at a time when our brains are developing and learning how to communicate and form healthy bonds.

The way we interact with our siblings as children will inform how we go about relationships as adults. By taking an active role in encouraging your siblings to trust each other, cooperate, and love each other, you are setting your children up for success later in life.

Feel free to share some more sibling rivalry solutions that you’ve seen work in the past!

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