When I was pregnant with my second child, I vowed to do everything I could to avoid sibling rivalry and make my children be kind and loving to each other. The thought that my kids would bicker, hit or be mean to one another was not a pleasant one! But–bicker they did! There was even a little hitting and hair pulling.
Most of the time I told them to take it somewhere else, as nobody likes to listen to people arguing. Often, that was enough to get them to stop. I utilized the strategies below to minimize the negative feelings that siblings may have toward each other, and for the most part, they worked.
Struggling with sibling rivalry in your home? Keep these four tips in mind:
- Don’t Get Involved (Really)
One of your children comes running up to you, ready to report what the other one did wrong. What next? The best thing you can do is not get involved–truly.
Coming to you is actually a tactic: one child wants to confirm for themselves which child they think their parent loves more. And sadly, that’s how they’ll interpret it when you take sides.
Over time, a pattern forms. Child A antagonizes child B; child B responds; child A tattles to you–and if you punish child B, they both think you love child A more. Clearly, that’s never the result you’re going for.
The good news is: You can help your children avoid this spiral. Start with an “Oh.” Then you can add something back like: “I’m sure you can figure it out.” The child reporting to you will see the lack of a reaction, and annoying their sibling will instantly become less interesting.
- Do Allow for Space
It’s only natural for people to get on each other’s nerves–especially now. If you’re homeschooling or Zoom schooling, your kids could be with each other 24 hours a day. It’s important to remember that no matter how much we love each other, we can get tired of being together–and that’s okay.
Teach your children to ask for some alone time. What matters is that they ask nicely. There’s no need to say: “You’re getting on my nerves, go away.” Instead: “I’d like to play by myself for a bit.” or “I need some alone time now.”
Remember, you can model this, too. Tell your children when you’d like some time to yourself as well.
- Don’t Make Every Purchase About Both Children
Intuitively, it may seem like a tactic to avoid sibling rivalry is to always create parity with everything that you buy for your children. There are some times when this makes sense. (If you go on a trip, you’ll bring things back for both children, not one or the other.) However, in general, giving each child what they individually need tends to be more effective–not to mention smarter financially!
In practice, this means that if one child needs a new soccer ball or pajamas, there’s no need to make sure that the other child also receives something new. If you get a “Why didn’t you get me something too?”, reassure them that each child gets what they need when they need it. This helps your children see that there’s no preferential treatment.
- Do Encourage Sharing–The Right Way
Yes, we want to teach our kids to share with each other. But there’s a really important caveat: Not every toy has to be shared. Expecting your child to share everything (with a sibling or on a playdate) is unrealistic and unfair.
Kids feel more comfortable when they’re allowed some autonomy and control over their world, and this includes their things. Empower your child to have one or two toys each week (this can change) that they don’t have to share.
A great way to execute this in practice is to give each child a “non-sharing” box. They get to take the things they don’t want to share that week and keep them in a special bin in their room. This way they’re not taunting their sibling; plus, once they’ve been given control of the non-sharing toys, they’re able to accept that everything else is fair game.
Sibling rivalry is something many parents worry about. But implementing these simple strategies can alleviate friction and help your children know they’re equally loved.