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6 Ways to Prevent Sibling Rivalry

When siblings fight, everyone in the family is affected. When a parent hears, “Give it to me!” “Get away from me!” or “No, m-i-n-e!” their first reaction is to yell, “Stop it!” or “How many times have I told you!”

Many parents with more than one child have told me: “They fight terribly. . .They will play happily for ten minutes and then the fighting begins again.” Sound familiar?

Kids fight for many reasons. Just like everything else in childhood, the underlying reason kids fight is that they need to learn something.


What Can Kids Possibly Learn from Fighting?

 If you were to look at a family tree you’d see that siblings are listed on the same arm of the tree. That means they are of equal status when it comes to the rules in a family. But the sibling relationship is bigger than that. It’s actually a child’s first opportunity to learn about and prepare for long-term relationships.

Brothers and sisters teach each other about give and take, even when they don’t want to. They’re practicing how to love a person, even when they don’t like what that person did. Siblings are constantly learning tolerance, patience, kindness, and most of all, conflict resolution.

Most parents want to stop the fighting. But I’d like to suggest that you switch your focus from stopping the fighting, which teaches valuable skills, to stopping the rivalry. The rivalry is what can cause lifelong damage between brothers and sisters. Here are some tips on making this switch.


1. Don’t Be Judge and Jury

Most parents think that part of their job entails being both judge and jury. The problem with that is that the kids don’t learn how to resolve things themselves. When a parent decides who is right and who is wrong and what should be done about that, one child remains angry and one feels like the winner. They’re not working together to practice the resolution skills that they’ll need to be successful in life.

2. Instead, Be a Facilitator

To get your kids to be on the same team, you need to help facilitate and guide them toward resolution of their own fights. You do that by teaching your kids how to express the feelings that motivated the fight in the first place. Put the same questions to both children until resolution has occurred. For example:

Molly, why are you mad? And Sam, why are you mad?

Molly, please give me three ideas to work this out. And Sam, what are your three ideas?

(For more specifics, check out my seminar, “Mom, she took my stuff again!”

3. Explain That We Do Not Hurt Those We Love

Since kids are immature thinkers, the best way to enforce this rule is to define it further. This might sound like, “One way someone gets hurt is by accident. The other way is when someone uses his or her body as part of a fight. Which one is against the law in our house?”

When a child is busted for physically fighting with a sibling do not expect him or her to say, “Gee mom, that was handled so calmly, I appreciate your wisdom.” They’re angry. Try not to address the anger, just yet. You can say, “I’d be angry too if I had to lose my video time because I was fighting.” If you demand that your child not be angry, you’re walking into a power struggle. You’ll have picked up your end of the rope, as I described in my column, How to Deal with Back Talk from Your Kids.

4. Don’t Compare Your Kids

Comparing makes a child feel unappreciated and unloved by you. It never makes them rise up to work harder. Some kids increase the fighting with a sibling when they feel compared to him or her. Other kids swallow those feelings and seethe with resentment and lack of self worth.

5. Focus on Each Sibling’s Unique Talents

Each child deserves and needs to be seen as someone special, with unique talents and skills. Help your kids create high self-esteem by using “specific praise,” not global praise, as you focus on their unique talents. To learn how to do that, see The Key to Building Your Child’s Self Esteem.

6. Read the Best Sibling Book Ever!

The best book I have ever found to teach parents how to facilitate conflict resolution with siblings is Siblings without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish. It’s engaging and easy to read. They use cartoons to illustrate what to say and do. You will learn so much from that book!


8 Responses to “6 Ways to Prevent Sibling Rivalry”

  1. Farrah

    I have thought about this many times- my boys are 16months (twins) and 3 years. So far I have seen some fighting for sure, and really hope that we can deal with issues accordingly when the time comes. It really makes ma sad to see them argue.

  2. Susan Smith

    I try and let my children work out their own fights unless it get physical. So far it hasn't. Their fights are usually over one of them taking something that belongs to the other and in that case they know they need to give it back.

  3. Gift Princess

    I'm proud to say that my parents practice each and every wisdom in this article 🙂

  4. Doris

    As parents of 3 children, we are trying to avoid this problem by showing love and affection to all the children and not playing favorite. Also, we try to show each obe of them that they are unique in their own ways and have different talents and gifts.

  5. Eric

    AS a father, I try to instill in my youngest the importance of loving your family first and watching out for one another. We are supposed to be a tight unit and brave everything together.

  6. Carmen

    I have two sons and I have always told my sons that you may not always agree with what your brother does and at times your sibling will hurt you more than they may hurt someone else however they will never allow anyone else to hurt you like that because he loves you more than anyone or anything in the world. My boys are so different however we always show them love, support and still do to this day, we have had different challenges from each son however because we take time to talk with them and love them they are growing into smart, grounded young men who we are so proud of. I was once told that my most important job is being a parent and I strive to be the best I can by loving them and cherishing them everyday. Great article!

  7. Iliana Blair

    Great article… I didn't have that problem nor my sons since they were 4 years apart. Treat everyone equally yet different is a good motto.


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