Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry has been around ever since there have been siblings! It is a normal part of child development. However, it can be frustrating for parents when at one moment their children can be best of friends and then moments later can seem like the worst of enemies. It can also seem never-ending for parents, starting with a new infant sibling and continuing on up through the adolescent years. On a more serious note, a recent article on the BC Council for Families Blog entitled Bullying or Sibling Rivalry? (June 20, 2013) states that sibling rivalry, if on the extreme side, can be considered just as traumatizing as bullying by schoolmates.

In this article, I will first outline four skills for parents in handling sibling issues and then follow up with a model on how to handle arguments and fighting between siblings.

I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Some of the ideas in this article have been adapted from their book “Siblings Without Rivalry.” I recommend that you read this book to get more information on how to help your children get along better when they are young in order to build a solid foundation for strong relationships between them when they are adults.

Skill #1: Set firm limits around hurtful and especially dangerous behaviors; close adult supervision may be necessary at times.

Skill #2: Help your child learn how to handle angry feelings by providing acceptable ways to handle these feelings

Skill #3: Acknowledge your child’s negative feelings about a sibling instead of rejecting or discounting them

Skill #4: Avoid comparisons

How to Handle the Arguing and Fighting Between Siblings

Here are three ways to handle arguments and fights between siblings. Which method you choose will depend on the level of arguing or fighting between the children.

Option 1: Stay Out of It

When you notice your children arguing or bickering with each other, and there is no physical aggression or name calling, this can be a good time for you to say or do nothing and let your children work things out themselves. The solution they come up with may not seem fair to you, but as long as it is safe and both children seem fairly content, it is best to let them work it out. However, even though you are not intervening in the situation and you are letting the children work things out themselves, it is still important to monitor the situation to make sure that emotions are not escalating, in which case you would need to intervene more directly.

Option 2: Help the Children to Problem Solve a Solution

When you notice your children’s arguing is starting to get more intense and emotions are escalating, this is a time you can step in to use a problem-solving strategy to help your children figure out a solution.

Option 3: Intervene Immediately to Create Safety

When you notice emotions are rapidly escalating or there is any name calling or physical aggression, move in immediately to create safety for each child. You may need to separate the children until things cool down.

Copyright Kathy Eugster, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Kathy Eugster, MA, RCC, CPT-S

MA, Counselling Psychology
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Certified Play Therapist – Supervisor
Child and Family Therapist

Kathy Eugster