No Fair! The Sounds of Sibling Rivalry
Anyone with a sibling — or who is a parent to siblings — knows that siblings fight. They wrestle, pull hair, call each other names, tattle and step on each other’s toys. Most of the time, strong words and actions between siblings is normal and helps children figure out how to solve their own problems. However, nonstop, daily abuse can have very serious consequences.
Imagine if you had to live with your school bully? When sibling fights cross over into sibling bullying, it can be emotionally, mentally and physically damaging to a child. In a recent issue of Pediatrics, researchers examined varying degrees of sibling aggression including name calling, stealing personal property, breaking things on purpose and physical assault. Children on the receiving end experienced significant mental distress — as much or more than those bullied by peers at school.
Guidelines for helping siblings to get along
When children have a sense of being treated equally in the home, sibling rivalry rates are far lower. Here are some guidelines you can follow to help your siblings get along better:
- Avoid comparisons. Every child is unique, and your children will develop skills at different times. Pointing out who learned to read or tie their shoes first will not motivate your child — it will only stir resentment. Instead, set realistic goals for each of your children.
- Listen up. When your children argue, it can be upsetting for them. Be sure to hear your children out and let them express their anger. Don’t be worried if they say they hate each other. You can acknowledge their feelings by saying, “I know it feels like you hate your sister right now. Anger can make you feel that way.”
- Don’t take sides. Make sure you present yourself as an impartial judge of the situation. Don’t show any preferences for one child over another.
- Be a guide. Help your children out when things get loud and you see no resolution in sight. Allow each one to have a say. Encourage them to use feelings statements such as: “I feel sad when my sister calls me names” and “It makes me feel bad when my brother takes my things without asking…” as opposed to blaming. Show them how to apologize to each other and make up. Teach your kids about compromise. If they are fighting over a toy, you can suggest that they each take a turn for a specific period of time. If they can’t agree on what game to play, you can have them flip a coin to see who gets to play their game first.
- Don’t reward tattling. Don’t encourage your children to tell on one another by punishing after hearing about an injustice through a tattle message.
- Don’t let it get physical. Hitting, pushing, kicking and biting are all reactions that can happen when siblings get mad at each other. When it happens, you must intervene and let your child know that it is not OK to hurt others. Hurting your sibling should always have a penalty — a loss of privilege or a time out, for example. You could have the offending child do something nice for her brother or sister to make amends, such as playing a game together or reading a story. Also, telling your child to hit or kick back is not a good way to teach your kids how to solve their differences.
- Let them test it out. Once your children are a little older and you have given them good direction, encourage them to settle their own fights. Keep a close ear in case things get out of hand.
If you have a child who is consistently aggressive (verbally and/or physically) to his or her sibling, it is time for a more serious intervention. Talk to your pediatrician for advice on how to handle the problem.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: July 2013