Sibling conflict is one of the most difficult, distressing and exhausting problems that many parents have to deal with. Yet it is inevitable.
Research tells us that conflict is a major part of normal sibling relationships. Sibling rivalry creates opportunities for children to learn about dealing with conflict – so it’s not all bad. But what causes it?
Experts agree that at the root of sibling jealousy (which often causes rivalry) is each child’s deep desire for the exclusive love of their parents.
From a child’s point of view, the presence of other siblings threatens everything that is essential to their wellbeing. The mere existence of other children in the family often signifies LESS – less one-on-one quality time with parents, less attention for hurts and disappointments, and less approval for successes.
Most frightening of all is the thought: “if mum and dad are showing all that love and concern and enthusiasm for my brother/sister, maybe they love them more than me!”
No wonder children struggle so ferociously to be “the best child”. No wonder they use all their energy to have more or most – or ALL! Security lies in having all of mummy and daddy’s attention, all the toys, all the food, all the space…
As parents we can easily become frustrated because we expect our children to always get on well together. Conflict can be exasperating and demand all of our tolerance and patience.
To minimize the rivalry, our challenge as parents is to find a way to reassure each of our children that they are special, safe and loved.
Here are ten ideas to encourage good feelings and reduce conflict between siblings:
- Make sure that each child gets some quality time alone with you regularly
- Ensure each child gets some personal space and make sure they have belongings that they don’t have to share
- Pay attention to the individual needs of each child
- Be generous with hugs and affection to all of your children
- Teach children to say how they feel with words, not actions
- Let each child know what it is about them that you AND their siblings love or admire about them
- Notice and comment when you see your kids helping each other
- Work in teams for chores, and try not to assign roles based on gender, position in the family or age
- Interrupt unkindness
- Encourage rituals and traditions that foster bonding.
It’s always good to remember that sibling relationships are fluid, changing constantly. There is no way that we, as parents, can dictate a permanent, fixed, close, and loving relationship between our children. At different times of their lives, brothers and sisters can get closer or move apart from each other, and back again.
The challenge - to encourage positive relationships between our children - is sometimes difficult but it is not impossible. Our best approach is to use our wisdom and kindness to remove the usual obstacles to sibling harmony, so that when children are ready to reach out to each other the road is clear.
Lynne Kennedy is a Partnerships Educator at CatholicCare.
You can learn more about CatholicCare’s Pre-Marriage courses, such as our Partnerships course, here.
Knowledge from this article is based on the book “Siblings without Rivalry” by Faber and Mazlish.