How to Stop Sibling Rivalry
by Susie E. Caron © 11/8/15
Parents struggle with ways to handle their kids when they fight, blame each other, and try to win the parent to ‘their side’ in every debate. You may think you can solve these squabbles by teaching problem solving skills or the art of negotiating. However, for some social skills to develop, your kids need chances to argue things out, by themselves. Whenever you step in and ‘help’ them, you often, rather subtly, choose in your mind, who you think is right, smart, cleaver, etc. You may not want to do this, but you are human and your kids can see right through you. They ‘read’ it, in your tone, eye contact, and body language, and recognize who you think ‘comes out on top’. This soon becomes the real reason they fight:
Every sibling wants to gain "Favored Child Status".
Where does Favored Child Status (FCS) come from?
FCS doesn’t come from the kind of attention kids get. Kids experience any kind of “attention” – positive or negative, as a good thing. (The opposite of attention is neglect which kids instinctively fear.) It’s a survival thing and it’s in their DNA. It doesn’t depend on the kind of attention. Instead, ‘Favored Child Status’ depends more on the amount of time and energy a parent spends on each child. So, depending on what you do and how you do it, the sibling who receives the most praise may not feel ‘favored.’ Instead, it could be the child who gets you upset, or wants you to explain (repeatedly) or who is more often non-compliant, uncooperative or disrespectful.
I know that encouraging more bad behavior is not your goal. Neither is ‘favoring’ one child over the others. However, that is exactly what happens when you spend a lot of energy and time involved in sibling arguments. One child nearly always feels they have ‘won’ somehow. Worse yet, the losers feel badly because they also recognize who got the most attention. This is not your goal either.
Your goal is to help your kids to get along with each other. You also what them to know you love them equally and also differently, because they are distinct individuals. So, you may be wondering, what can parents do to make sure all the kids feel loved and get along better?
Here’s the short explanation for managing sibling arguments.
Here is this solution fleshed out a bit more for you.
Kids ages 0-5 years.
When kids ages 0-5 years, fight, it’s usually a good idea to let them unless they are drawing blood, breaking bones, or destroying property. Of course you’ll want to teach them first the no hitting, biting, kicking, etc. rule. Then let them play and argue without interfering. If they need help to play together nicely, you can teach them how to share and negotiate. You can especially show them how their feelings get hurt when they fight with each other. Of course when they physically hurt one another or break, throw, or otherwise destroy objects, all children need to go to time out.
Kids ages 5-9 years.
After age 5, if they come to you to solve their issues, don’t do it. Instead tell them that you believe in them and you want them to go and work it out together. When one child comes to tattle, kindly send the child back to talk with their sibling and find a compromise. If that child or the others come back one to two more times, then all children need to go to time out. (It takes two or more to argue. Don’t choose sides.)
If your kids continue to struggle, or the noise level becomes too difficult for you to bare, you can step in with a purpose. Sit and help them to listen to each other and identify what they are feeling. Then if they cannot come to an agreement, separate all children until they are ready to try again. Don’t let one child dominate your time or attention and you won’t be encouraging ‘favored child status.’
If they hit each other, or worse, time out for both, becomes instantly necessary. Tell them this, “Since you cannot play nicely together, you can’t play together at all until the timer rings.” Set the timer for the same number of minutes as the youngest child’s age. When it rings, they may go back to playing again. Repeat if necessary. They have to know that when they cannot work it out themselves, they all will go to time out.
When you practice these steps, your children will know that they will all go to time out if they hurt each other or property, or even if they get too loud and it’s bothering others in the house. Because you aren’t choosing sides, your kids won’t sense you favor one over the other. These combined reduce the number and severity of their sibling arguments. You will also notice they get along much better, cooperate with each other and even enjoy being together. This is what most parents dream of.
What else can you do besides time out with older kids?
When my kids got older, and their arguing got too loud, I used to hand my kids each a bucket, sponge and detergent and say, “Since you have so much energy that you are fighting, you can each clean________________.” They used up a lot of negative energy cleaning and were eager to get back to playing. Oh and I got a bit more of my own work done that day.
I hope you enjoyed this and the little secret I shared. If you know someone who could use this article, forward it right now, so you don't forget. It’s super to share on social media too.
Twee means you and me
Helping Siblings to Enjoy Each Other
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!