6 ideas for dealing with sibling rivalry

Fighting kids making you want to tear your hair out? Take a deep breath and read this article.

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  • If your kids are anything like mine, they can be best friends or worst enemies. Fortunately, there are ways to tame sibling rivalry and even keep it from happening. Sibling rivalry can be defined as competition between brothers and sisters, and it is often an attention-seeking activity. There are many reasons kids compete with each other, including insecurity, normal development, desire for attention and perceived loss of favor from a parent. Keep reading for ways to help your kids support and love each other.

  • Don’t compare

  • All children have unique strengths and talents, and all children have weaknesses. Treating each of your children like individuals will help keep competition at bay in your home. Avoid comparisons between children, for example: “Your brother seems to get his jobs done,” and “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” These phrases promote feelings of dislike and inability. Help each child progress at his or her own pace and according to individual abilities.

  • Eliminate competition

  • Some competition is healthy, but if sibling rivalry is a problem in your home, you may need to do away with it for the time being. Don’t have kids rush to complete jobs or homework the fastest; don’t chart progress on reading or piano practice as a competition between siblings. My kids are always making up races and contests, but they are usually unfair. I try to encourage them to set up fair competitions or avoid them all together. It seems that competition in families usually results in hurt feelings.

  • One-on-one time

  • If your children are competing with each other for your time and attention, carve out some one-on-one time with each of them. Even a 10 minute walk, bedtime chat or outside play session will help you reconnect. My husband tries to schedule regular daddy/kid dates with our children. Since he sees them for just a few hours each day, they really enjoy going somewhere special with just dad.

  • Emphasize unity

  • Even though it’s cheesy, I often think of the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” when I think of my family. I teach my children that their siblings should be their best friends. Families watch out for each other, offer help when needed and always show love. Having regular family time together will get the message of unity across.

  • Work together

  • If my children are fighting, I often have them work together at a task. It’s difficult to get them started and keep them on task, but by the end they have usually resolved their differences. Putting kids on the same “team” takes away feelings of competition and rivalry. Of course, this doesn’t always work, so sometimes we have to do cool down time in separate spaces before the task gets completed. Having parents join in and work together is a great way to solidify the message and control the situation. Here are some tips on giving your family a sense of teamwork.

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  • Desperate times

  • Parents might need to be creative when sibling rivalry gets out of hand. One memorable method making the social media rounds is the get along shirt, although I’d use it as an attention-getter for a good discussion rather than a punishment. You could also stop all activity in the house and ask for quiet for a minute, then gather the kids and have a silly moment to change the mood. Whatever you do, make sure your frustration doesn’t add negativity to the situation.

  • If you’re looking for more ideas on this topic, The University of Michigan Health System has a helpful short article about sibling rivalry. It’s important for siblings to have the space they need as individuals, and a sense of belonging as part of a family. Reduce fighting and competition in your family and see how much happier everyone can be.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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