Parenting tips for families on how to deal with sibling rivalry have made significant advances since the recommended action was to smack the closest — or slowest — child while loudly demanding that they all “Cut It Out!” The term sibling rivalry refers to brothers and or sisters, or both, competing for parental attention and affection. This competition is acted out between the children as fighting and arguments or teasing. At one time, a sibling’s fight with his or her rival was seen as an unsophisticated means of expressing jealousy over their incorrect assumptions regarding the parental attention their sibling rival received. However, English sibling expert, Judy Dunn, has demonstrated that babies as young as one year of age are acutely aware of parental attention given to — or withheld from — another sibling. Not surprisingly, the more parental attention and affection are unequally distributed among siblings, the more sibling rivalry, fighting and turmoil are reported.
Current recommendations on how to deal with sibling rivalry include not intervening in fights unless physical harm is threatened. As recommended by KidsHealth.org, “Whenever possible, don’t get involved.” ChildDevelopmentInfo.com encourages, “When possible, let brothers and sisters settle their own differences.” Both organizations emphasize that this approach is meant to teach children lifelong interpersonal skills, not only with each other, but also in all their future relationships.
In addition to the suggestion above on how to deal with sibling rivalry, there are some active steps you and your partner can do in order to decrease sibling rivalry. Above all, don’t play favorites or compare sibling appearance or abilities. Provide each child at least 10 minutes of solo attention each day. Don’t discourage a child’s anger at a sibling, or “order it away.” Rather, talk about what specific issues of the situation is making the child angry.
Finally, set an example to your children about how anger and disagreement is expressed in the household. If you and your partner scream at each other, slam doors and curse, why does it surprise you that your children handle anger and frustration in the same manner? Set positive examples — such a “breather” to calm down within, disagreeing with each other while not fighting, and speaking in a conversational tone — to help your children adopt positive ways of dealing with anger, frustration and jealousy.