About sibling rivalry
A sibling is a special gift, but one that is often unappreciated during the childhood years. While siblings are often excellent playmates, partners in crime, and in later years best friends and confidants, arguments among them are bound to occur and are absolutely normal, even though they can be a parent’s worst headache! It is important that you as a parent recognize the individual personalities, feelings, and needs of each of your children, and know how to effectively diffuse conflicts that arise so that your entire family is happy and healthy.
What parents can do
Know why they act out. Siblings fight with one another for a variety of reasons. They could be seeking attention from you or trying to distinguish and separate themselves from one other. Older children dislike being seen as the responsible ones, and younger children dislike being compared to their older sibling. Each child may be trying to express these feelings by taking their frustration out on the other.
Set ground rules. While sometimes children do need to argue and sort out their differences, it is important that they do it in a safe and healthy way. While you should try to avoid getting involved, your children should know what is appropriate and what is not. For example, under no circumstances is it OK to use physical fighting to resolve differences. Fighting should not take place in the car, as it can be distracting to the driver.
Teach positive interaction. One way to minimize squabbles among your children is to model cooperation, compromise, and anger management. Teach them to take a deep breath and remember not to say things they do not mean in the heat of the moment. Remind them that it takes two to argue, and show them how to apologize to one another. Help them figure out ways to cooperate and compromise, take turns, and sometimes agree to disagree. If you do get involved, try not to yell or lecture.
Don't compare. Each of your children is unique and fighting with each other is one of the ways in which they are conveying this to one another and to you. Make sure you spend some one-on-one time with each child. While it is easy to enroll your children in the same activities, especially if they are of the same age or gender, recognize their individual talents and interests. Try to avoid asking your older child to bring a younger sibling along when hanging out with friends, because this can lead to resentment. Also, teach your children that fair is not always equal. Older children are often given more responsibility, and younger children do not always get the same privileges.
Make family time a priority. A good way for your children to learn to get along with one another is to emphasize the importance of family. Encourage family interactions on a regular basis. There are small and easy ways to accomplish this, like planning at least one activity to do together each weekend, and trying to eat dinner together as much as possible during the week. Weekly family meetings are a good way to avoid complaining and potential conflicts among your children. This is a good time to decide who will do what chore, and who will get what privilege. Especially if your children are close in age, it is a good idea to rotate things like who will load the dishwasher vs. who will clear the table, and who will sit in the front seat in the car.