Family Health

6 Tips to Combat Sibling Rivalry

Summer is nearing its end and kids will soon head back to school. As parents, some of us are breathing a sigh of relief. Summer can be a battleground between kids at home, and school means siblings will be separated in their respective classrooms. 

But when they are together, how can we find peace in the face of battling siblings?

All part of growing up

Brothers and sisters fight over toys, electronics, tattle on one another, and tease and criticize each other. Research shows that siblings ages 7 and under can have three to seven conflicts per hour. These fights can be upsetting for parents as we know how important sibling relationships are. Our hope, when we have more than one child, is that siblings will be each other’s playmates at home and beyond, throughout their lives. 

While the bickering can get on parents’ nerves, sibling disagreements actually build life skills. They help siblings to learn how to live and work with other people. These spats also help children learn to manage intense emotions: envy, hatred and anger. 

We, as parents, need to accept that our job isn’t to eliminate conflict, but to mitigate its effects. 

Tips to combat sibling rivalry

  1. Stay out of your children’s arguments (as much as possible). You may have to help younger children settle their differences. If older children try to involve you, explain to them they need to settle the conflict themselves. You should get involved if the situation becomes violent. Preventing violence is always better than punishing afterward. Praise your children when they solve their arguments and reward good behavior. 
  2. Be fair. If you must get involved, listen to all sides of the story. Be consistent with discipline with each child to avoid feelings of favoritism. When it comes to sibling conflicts, there are rarely innocents. For the most part, kids who hurt one another or are getting hurt were already doing something you told them not to do. 
  3. Respect your child’s privacy. If it is necessary to punish or scold a child, do it alone, privately. Do not embarrass your child by scolding him in front of others. 
  4. Create rules. No hitting, no stealing and no excluding. Communicate the rules. They can be stated and posted on the refrigerator.
  5. If you are feeling frustrated, turn to equal distribution. “Playtime is over.” Divvy up the chores: “You, empty the dishwasher,” “You, pick up the toys,” “You, bring down the laundry.”
  6. Know things will get better. There will be ups and downs to sibling relationships. Know that gradually, siblings will reach that level of lifelong friendship that they know they can count on.

You have the option to get involved or to let the children figure it out on their own. You can offer strategies for getting along and see if the siblings can incorporate that into their relationship. 

When you need help sorting things out, talk with your child’s Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician.

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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