This is a post from Maria Albertsen, the KiddyCharts resident agony aunt in response to the Kate Takes Five Oracle post on Sibling rivalry. We hope it gives you food for thought, and possibly even helps!
Does your kids behaviour towards each other leave you feeling like you want to pull your hair out, like you are talking to the wall or like you want to bang your kids heads together? Do they seem to argue, fight, name call and torment each other ALL THE TIME! Is the noise level in your house because of them screaming and shouting just a few more decibels than what your ears can take? You are not alone! Many, in fact, MOST parents have to deal with sibling rivalry at some point or another and it can feel like it’s driving us insane! And no one is exempt from it either, the rich and famous are just as likely to experience this problem as anyone else, remember Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis? They made no attempt at hiding how massive the rivalry between them was!
Why does sibling rivalry happen?
Certain feelings and emotions can be overbearing and difficult to cope with at the best of times and kids experience more ups and down with their emptions, as their hormones are adjusting, than adults do. Quite often, when you put two or more children together, all these emotions mix and clash with each other and what seems like a simple way of solving a problem or issue to us can seem almost impossible to them. Bonds between siblings are often complicated and are influenced by many factors, e.g. external events, parental treatment, life experiences. It often seems that sibling rivalry is more intense when children are closer in age or of the same gender, although I know a few parents who would disagree with that! It is also often apparent when one child is ‘gifted’ or maybe has special needs and it appears to the other child that they are getting more attention. Children often want to show that they are individuals in their own right and to claim their own ‘identity’ within the family.
There can be many reasons why your children may seem to find it impossible to get along and so as the stress, tension and temporary insanity increase, it becomes important to look at prevention, nipping it in the bud, how to deal with it, and what to do if you can’t see a way out.
Preventing sibling rivalry
Of course, this would be the option we’d all choose if we could, but we have to agree it’s not always possible. Parents are often not around when things kick off or just simply don’t anticipate a fight about to happen. But here are a few suggestions about how we can work towards preventing any arguments and tantrums from happening:
- Ensure each child has sufficient 1 on 1 time: this will allow each child to ‘shine’. They will have the space to share their own personality with each parent and to know that they, as an individual, have been seen and accepted for who they are.
- Never compare your children to each other: well not in front of them anyway, and certainly not if front of each other. Children strive to show us their individuality and more importantly seek to be accepted. By comparing to others we are often saying that a certain aspect of themself is not good enough. This will only fuel any sibling rivalry that is already there.
- Arrange structured family time: Plan an activity once a week, even if just for an hour where the whole family gets together and does an activity or even just to have a special meal etc. If you show your kids how to behave with one another and how important it is to be respectful, take turns, etc then you are laying the foundations for mutual respect and for them to feel they can be civil, and loving.
Of course, this doesn’t mean kids will never argue, of course they will, it’s human nature to do so. After all, there was a time when we all had to fight for survival! It’s also important to learn that SOME rivalry is healthy; it keeps us in touch with what is important to us and teaches us to stick up for ourselves. What we need to do it to show our kids what healthy confrontation is and how we survive better when we have each other as back up and support, encouraging positive relationships. By leading the way as a positive role model you can have a huge impact on how they behave with and treat each other. After all, parents are who their children learn most from.
Nipping rivalry in the bud
If preventing sibling rivalry isn’t an option right now then take some time out to observe your children. Don’t interfere when they start to argue or fight, just take some mental notes of why it starts, who does what, how it ends, etc. Then go off somewhere private and write these thoughts down so you don’t lose them. A good idea is to then find some quite time to yourself, maybe pop out to a local coffee shop and leave the kids with your husband or another trusted adult and have a good think about what actually happens between your children. Often when we are away from the situation we can focus a lot more on what really goes on. This isn’t an exercise to go back and share with your kids but is more a tool for you to have a few solutions up your sleeve to try and nip the arguments, fights, etc. in the bud. Start by learning to recognise when an argument, explosion, imminent attack is about to happen! lol (I have all kinds of images in my head right now, mainly of my brother 2 years younger than me, chasing me up the stairs with a knife and nearly slicing my toes off !)
After you have a list of what the triggers are, then you can start to focus on what you can do to stop the situation as it starts, or even before. Can you move one child from the room before it actually happens, perhaps before they even realise it is going to happen, can you break that pattern? How can you teach your children to recognise when they are about to lose it and to remove themselves from the situation? Using observation and clear undisrupted thinking time, you will probably realise you know how to deal with these situations a lot more than you originally thought you did!
How to deal with rivalry situations when they do kick off!
One of the most important things to remember is DON’T GET INVOLVED, do not side, agree with or support any of the children, even if they were in the right! Remember, that children seek to be accepted. By publically sticking up for one above the other, they’ll only feel rejected! If after a while, it is apparent that your kids can’t stop this themselves and sort it out between them and things will get nasty, then all you need to do is to stop whatever is going on, easier said than done I know! But what I do with my boys, and they do fight daily, is to simply remove one of them from the room and leave them to calm down. I then speak to each one individually and explain why their behaviour contributed to the situation and why it’s not acceptable. I ask them if they have understood what I’ve said and then I give them some positive praise for understanding and for allowing themselves to cool down. I don’t encourage my boys to talk after, as they are just 2 and 4 years old and they haven’t got the skills to communicate effectively yet like this, they’d just become confused…..they usually just forget all about what’s happened from just being separated a while, then we’re good if we get another 2 hours or so before they kick off again and I do the same again! BUT, the fighting is decreasing!
If your children are a bit older, then it is a good idea to set ground rules for acceptable behaviour and to have consequences if these are not maintained. A good trick a friend of mine uses is in regards to their pocket money. The children know they get a set amount each week. So on a Sunday morning their expected pocket money for the Saturday is written on a star chart based around pocket money on the kitchen wall. Each time a child does something that isn’t acceptable they lose money from their allowance. When my friend first started this, there were a few weeks when one child had no money at all, and she was strong enough to see this through and not to give the child any money when Saturday arrived. The child soon realised that the behaviour wasn’t worth the punishment and now both girls often have the full amounts of pocket money at the weekend. I feel that this teaches children that we have to work for things in life to get what we want. It shows them that we often have to be respectful of others and play by the rules to succeed in life. It also teaches then to be responsible for themselves and their actions. If you realise that certain situations are making your children fight then maybe you can adopt this system to deal with it?
If you can’t see a way out
Sometimes, and not very often, we get to the point where we are just not coping. I know I was joking a little earlier when I said about banging the kids head together but the truth is, sometimes they really do make us feel that way. When our homes, which are supposed to be safe, secure and calming are full of stress and aggression it is a very difficult situation to live in and deal with. It can seem like there is no way out and you feel like you are just staring at a blank wall wondering what to do next. It’s important to remember that none of this is the blame of one person but a set of things which have got beyond what you can deal with right now and at this point it’s more than fine to seek some professional help. If your children are still little you can arrange to speak to your health visitor/GP or GP if they are older. They may able to offer family mediation or counselling to try and get to the root of the problem. It’s also very distressing for parents to see their children fighting all the time and there may be some support available for you too. It may also be worth asking to speak to their tutors at school to check out if there is anything happening in school which they may be bringing home and affecting how they are with each other. Please don’t feel alone with this as there is plenty of support available.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I am more than willing to discuss this with you either here or by private email; just use the contact us form within the KiddyCharts website on the top toolbar.
Have your experienced sibling rivalry in your kids? How have you dealt with it? Be lovely to hear from you in the comments below.