How to deal with siblings rivalry

The last two weeks my children have been fighting with each other so often, that it has been hard for them and also for me to control feelings of irascibility that come out from that. Even if I am trying to constantly reinforce that siblings should make an effort to get on well, do not offend or hit each other, that they should try to be best friends, it seems that my messages are getting lost somewhere.

So, I reread the great book Siblings Without Rivalry, from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and felt enlightened again to put some of the advice into practice. I will share some of them with you. Maybe you are in need like me or you can also have some good tips.

According to Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, sibling relationships are fluid, changing, constantly in process. At different periods of their lives, brothers and sisters draw apart or come together. There is no way that we as parents can mandate a fixed, close, loving relationship between our children. However, what we can do is remove the usual obstacles to sibling harmony, so that when our children are ready to reach out to another, the road is clear.

Ways to encourage good feelings between brothers and sisters

The family is where we learn our relationship skills. And the way we relate to our children and teach them to relate with each other, even in the heat of battle, can be our permanent gift to them.

1. Make sure that each child gets some time alone with you several times a week.

Spend some time alone with each of your children, providing some intimacy and special moments, provides emotional nourishment that kids need to be more caring or feel more tolerant towards their sibling(s).

When you have this special moment with your son or daughter do not let a phone call break that mood. Just dedicate that time to your child, to listen to him/her and talk with each other. He will have a greater sense of his value.

2. When spending time with one child, do not talk about the other.

When your child is alone with you she will want all the attention and won’t enjoy listening to you talking about the brother or sister.

Make mention to a brother or sister even in a simple sentence like “oh, your brother would love this t-shirt”, will make her think that even when the brother is not present, he takes Mom from her.

3. Do not withhold your affection or attention from your “favorite child” in order to make it up to a less favored child.

Some parents feel guilty when they admit they feel partial toward one child that instead of giving too much attention to the “favorite” they end up becoming distant or cold to the child who speaks to their hearth and gives exaggerated praise or attention to the less favored one.

This can cause confusion and hurt both children. All each child needs is a full appreciation for who he or she is.

4. Do not lock the children in their position in the family constellation (oldest, youngest, middle). Allow each child the opportunity to experience some of the privileges and responsibilities of the other.

Part of what creates deep resentment between siblings is the demand by parents that they always maintain their family position.

Do not attach the position of the oldest child to be responsible for the others or the serious one and the youngest the baby. Let them invert papers sometimes.

If your five years old wants to be a baby for some time, as the sister, let him/her “play baby” and try to join saying something like “oh, so you are a baby now. Let’s fill your bottle with milk “and you can fake it for a while. You can also let the youngest do the tasks you usually give to the oldest, like put the table or help you in the kitchen.

5. Don’t get trapped by togetherness

Even if the picture of a whole family enjoying an outing together can look appealing, for some children, the pressure of having to spend a long time with the sibling can put additional stress in the relationship they have.

Take a beautiful day at the zoo: the little ones rushes to keep up with the big one. The big one runs ahead and calls the little one a “slowpoke.”(tears) The little one wants to stop to eat and the big one is not hungry yet. Both complain and start to fight.

If children are going through a period where there’s constant irritation between them, the parents ought not to subject them to “togetherness”. It could only serve to drive them further apart.

In a situation like this you should consider doing something like:

  • Dad can take one child while Mom stays at home with the other child.
  • Mum can take a child out while Dad stays home with the other.
  • Everybody goes to the zoo, splits up and meets for lunch.

6. Let each child know what it is about him that his siblings like or admire.

Many times children will fight and act like enemies because they are not aware of the underlying feelings of admiration and affection that one has for the other. Just knowing about a sibling’s positive feeling can make big changes in a relationship, for better.

7. Schedule family meetings

Even if it is inside the home, schedule a meeting for watching a movie together, at 6 p.m. or to play a game together at 3 p.m. or to bake a cake together, etc

This will unite the family.

Other ways to work around siblings rivalry

The authors also suggest that you should follow four steps in solving siblings rivalry:

1.Hear the child point’s of view (acknowledge his feelings)

Example (transcription from the book):

Mother: Billy made you so mad this morning that you pushed him.

Amy: He’s a pest.

Mother: He really annoys you.

Amy: I was making tracks for my train and he kept grabbing them.

Mother: That could be pretty frustrating – someone grabbing your tracks when you are trying to put them together. Is there anything else he does that bothers you?

Amy: He’s always taking my toys and eats my Play-Doh, and he broke my Jack-in-the-Box.

Mother: So, he does a lot of things that upset you.

Amy: Yeah!

2. Express your point of view.

Mother: I get very upset when one of my children hurts another.

3. Invite your child to brainstorm with you.

Mother: Let’s put our heads together and see whether there’s anything we can think of doing when Billy bothers you that will be good for you and good for Billy.

4. Write down all the ideas.

Amy: Lock him in his room.

Mother: Okay.Will write that down. What else?

Amy (laughing now): Tie him to a chair.

Mother: I’ve got that. What else?

Of course, the solutions presented by Amy were not viable, but having a tolerant and open discussion together can be easier to find a solution. Mother could have suggested that “Why not play with Play-Dough while your brother sleeps nap?”; “You can give him another toy in exchange that pleases him”; “if nothing else works, tell me you need help”.

The book gives more tips, but the ones mentioned were the ones I felt more useful.

This can be a big step to siblings rivalry but much patience and persistence are needed in order to triumph.




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