Ahhhh, sibling rivalry. There is nothing quite like it. All at once, it can bring a home’s atmosphere down and spark chaos. ”He stole my lightsaber.” “Those toys are mine!” “He’s looking at me funny.” As a mom of two young kids, I can tell you that nothing puts a damper on the day like bickering between siblings, and before I know it, I’m a referee more than I am a mom. But thankfully, with some helpful tools, parents can teach their children how to resolve and reconnect so there is peace in the home once again. In fact, when siblings can learn healthy conflict resolution in the home, they will carry those life skills with them throughout the rest of their lives. Here’s what I’ve done that has worked WONDERS in my home. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what’s normal and what isn’t when it comes to sibling rivalry.
What are the main causes of sibling rivalry?
While some sibling conflict is very normal amongst families, here are the most common reasons for sibling feuds that can vary from family to family.
- Unwillingness to share/selfishness
- Self-esteem issues
- Personality differences
- Hurt feelings
- Unresolved anger
- Unmonitored screen usage
- Overuse of digital screens
- Age difference
- No household boundaries
- Mental health
- Competetive demeanors
It can be tempting to think that sibling rivalry only comes from our child’s selfishness. But the truth is, parents can be at fault as well. While we will get to more of that later, one vital aspect of keeping the peace in your home is to make sure the attention parents give their children is intentional, frequent, and meets your child’s love language. When kids feel more connected to their parents, they are less likely to bicker with one another, knowing they don’t need to fight for our attention.
What are the signs of sibling rivalry?
Aside from the obvious (walking into a room where one of your children has the other in a headlock), there are a few signs that shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to family member relationships.
Because the part of the brain that controls impulses isn’t developed in a child until the age of four (and even then it’s not all there) younger siblings are more prone to fight. That being said puberty will, once again, prompt a big change in brain development, causing impulse control to decline.
Right now, I have a toddler, just under 4, and the other is entering puberty. So as you could guess, my kids sometimes struggle with one another, based on the age difference and their ever-changing brains. On top of that, my older son had us as parents to himself for 7 years before we welcomed our new baby, his little brother, into the world.
This has caused some jealousy to arise. And as my older son is now capable of understanding the repercussions of his actions, we have frequent talks about jealousy, where he is free to share his heart, and we both work on our part. As a parent, I had to look within to make sure my son’s misbehavior wasn’t a result of something I needed to change in my parenting. Turns out, it was. Even though it wasn’t intentional, I wasn’t making sure my older son’s needs were being met as I was taking care of his baby brother day in and day out.
I apologized for my part and promised to make an effort to have more one-on-one time with my older son while my husband had the little one.
Now, as a daily habit, my husband and I switch places to have one-on-one time with both our children before bed. This gives both of us undivided attention to meet each one’s specific needs. This has helped a TON with their sibling fighting.
A Parent’s Voice Matters in Sibling Rivalry
Even though unintentional, I was favoring my younger son in many situations, triggering my son’s jealousy. That being said, he still had a part to play and we worked through that.
My point here is this. If we aren’t willing to look within as parents to make sure we aren’t fueling the flame, then something is wrong. Little things like labeling your kids can cause sibling rivalry. “Jimmy is more athletic than Tom.” “Sarah is WAY more creative than my younger child.”
Is childhood sibling rivalry normal?
While chronic sibling rivalry amongst young children should never be ignored, there are certain family dynamics — birth order, personality differences, or temperaments — that can cause a kid’s fight to break out, which is completely normal behavior in children
In one of my parenting classes, I was approached by a mother whose two grade school-aged boys, similar in age, were constantly arguing. It got so bad that one of the two was threatening the older child’s life. This is not normal sibling rivalry, and an action plan is needed to get to the root issue, not just address the behavior.
When this happens, there is a heart issue at hand. Perhaps it’s stemming from undealt with jealousy. Parents should frequently hold family meetings, both alone with their kids, and all together, to listen to their child’s feelings about what’s on their hearts. It’s important to do the heart work that parenting requires of us, not only in these circumstances but on a regular basis as to establish healthy communication in the family.
But most often, sibling rivalry is a very normal part of childhood. But again, if left alone, can escalate to other, more serious, issues.
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9 Tips for Fixing Sibling Rivalry for Good
My kids love each other; I truly believe they do, but they are innately selfish just like the rest of us, so they tend to fight and argue and push for their way. On my worst days, I can definitely be heard just shouting “Knock it off!” down the basement stairs, but below are some much better practices we have found to help encourage our kids and ourselves to pursue peace.
1. Demonstrate and Model Healthy Conflict Resolution
Healthy conflict resolution is vital to children’s emotional health, and they learn this in the home. The way conflict is handled in your home is most likely how they will manage conflict throughout their lives. Let them witness you and your spouse work through things and apologize to one another.
Be very intentional about how you handle conflict with each of your children. Be quick to apologize when you have been impatient or unkind so that they learn to be quick to apologize.
2. Stop Labelling Your Children
As mentioned above, it’s important that parents don’t compare and contrast their children against one another. This can cause a child to see their unique difference as a negative personality trait. Instead, encourage your child in their strengths, and leave the comparisons out of it. “You are such a good friend to others.” While also encouraging your other child in their strengths equally, but not at the same time. “You are such a good helper.”
You want to be careful about HOW you compliment your child so as to pour admiration into WHO they are, not so much what they can accomplish. If you are continually complimenting them based on their performance, they could see this as a way to please you, instead of doing something because they love to do it. There’s so much to consider in parenting. Don’t let that discourage you!
3. Apologies are Essential to Getting Along
An essential piece of an apology is taking responsibility for what you have done and admitting it was wrong. Apologies in our house sound something like this: I am sorry I hit you. That was not kind. Will you please forgive me?
It is imperative for our children to learn to quickly own their mistakes and make it right with the person they have wronged.
The best way for parents to encourage a healthy apology is to model it for them. “Mommy wasn’t being kind. Can you forgive me? Let me try that again in a kind voice.”
4. Have them practice these 3 things when a fight arises
If tempers are rising, disputes are breaking out, and there’s not much reasoning left to do, have your kids try one or all of these three things.
- Find their calm – Have your kids sit near one another and take some deep breaths. When a child doesn’t feel right, they can’t really reason or think right. Helping them calm down BEFORE you work things out can help them process why they feel frustrated.
- Use Distractions – If the issue is not monumental and you just need your kids to lighten up a little, have them sit facing one another. Next, tell them they aren’t allowed to smile. They will immediately break out in laughter and forget all about their argument.
- Create space for them to connect – When your kids are really struggling and need to be reminded of their love for one another, have them sit together and hold hands, but don’t force them. Wait until they are ready. Then, have them state 3 things they love about the other person. This will help them change their negative perspective and set their minds towards positivity.
4. Remind Them of Who They Are
Part of being a family is we all have responsibility for the tone and tenor of our home. We all have agreed that we want our home to be a place of peace. Reminding our children that they are part of something bigger than themselves calls them to action. They can choose to be a part of something we are all working towards together with our interactions, which gives them greater purpose and meaning for their choices.
Ask them what kind of brother or sister they want to be? How do they want their actions and words to make their siblings feel? Being others-centered instead or self-centered is something that needs to be taught and practiced with regularity. As adults, we still have to practice this skill! It is a gift to teach them this early.
5. Learning to Learn Each Other
One thing that is so fun about parenting is getting to know your children, and one of the joys we point out to our kiddos is the privilege they have in getting to grow together and get to know each other. We enjoy talking about each other’s gifts. On the flip side, we get to know each other’s weaknesses, so we can more readily extend grace to one another.
6. Practice Gratitude for Siblings
Siblings are a gift! Siblings are a gift! Siblings are a gift! It’s a mantra around here. You get to have built-in best friends; what a privilege. We encourage them to speak their gratitude for and to one another often. Ask them to say some positive things about their sibling. Bring humor into it by saying, “What was something your sister did that made you laugh recently?” The more they practice it the better!
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7. Set Healthy Expectations and Boundaries
I don’t know about you, but my expectations can make or break my day. If I am expecting sun and I get snow, I have a much more difficult time than if I was prepared for snow.
If I expect my husband to be home for dinner and he doesn’t show up until bedtime, I am upset. If I am expecting him to come home at bedtime then it is no problem at all.
I think parenting is like this. Sometimes, I come into the day expecting my children to get along. I forget that they are still learning and are not perfect. Then I am irritated very quickly when arguing and bickering begins.
Instead, if I go into the day remembering that my treasures are learning and growing just like me and that I will definitely have to help them remember how to love well today, I have much more grace for the training that is required during the day.
When it comes to boundaries, do your best to not compromise when your kids argue, and enforce the boundary you set for them. If they can’t adhere to that boundary, then a consequence is needed. Instead of using threats, try wording things in a more positive way when possible, as they are more likely to respond in a positive way. But don’t neglect the fact that sometimes, kids just need to accept the hard facts in life, and the best place to learn that is in the home.
“You can have this privilege (video games, etc.) as soon you can start treating your brother with kindness.”
“Because you weren’t able to follow the rules of being kind, I can’t give you that privilege today. Next time, I need you to…”
8. Use Examples
A couple of years ago, my husband gave my children the analogy of building a fire. The argument is the fire. Fire needs wood to burn. If you keep arguing, you keep putting sticks on the fire, and the fire gets bigger and bigger until it is out of control. On the other hand, if you decide to take the sticks out of the fire, the fire fizzles out and can’t keep burning.
This one really stuck with our kids, and now we can say, “Take your sticks out,” and often that is the only reminder they need to work it out calmly and kindly. Not always, mind you, but often.
9. Use Scripture to Encourage Siblings to Get Along
We use a lot of scripture in our home. Here are some helpful scriptural reminders about love and kindness to memorize with your kids! If you want to sign up for our newsletter, you can receive some awesome printable notecards of these verses for your family. Having something tangible for children to see can really help ingrain in their minds the beauty of peace in the home.
Seek Peace and Pursue it. Psalm 34:14
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
Love one another as I have loved you. John 13:34
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3
Do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14
Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Eph 4:32
A Peaceful Home
During this unprecedented time, most of us are spending more hours at home together than ever before. Now is a great time to set some good habits in motion to encourage our kids to love their siblings well. Pray for them to have hearts that are willing to put others first and demonstrate daily how to have healthy loving relationships. A peaceful home is worth all the effort!
A few days after I wrote this I ran into this article and was so grateful to see that we at wordfromthebird.blog were not alone in thinking that this issue is vitally important. Check out this article about sibling rivalry from Jen Wilkin at Christianity Today. It is a great encouragement that the relationship between your kids is worth fighting for! Happy Parenting!