Getting a Handle on Sibling Rivalry: Part 1

Getting a Handle on Sibling Rivalry:  Part 1

In our blog on July 2, 2020, we addressed how having healthy relationships between parents and kids is a key element in resolving sibling rivalry.  Because tensions between siblings are possibly being exacerbated during this school year, we thought it would be helpful to explore the dynamics of sibling rivalry in a two-part series that looks at some underlying reasons that can cause siblings to bicker and fight.  In this week’s post we’ll look at the first two of four reasons for sibling rivalry.

As many parents know, sibling rivalry can be the source of great frustration. How often do parents hear, “Daaad! Brian won’t stop picking on me! Make him stop!”? “I didn’t do it! Lisa started it! Why do I always get blamed for everything around here?” 

Does this sound familiar?  What’s a parent to do when the kids are at each other’s throats and the living room looks like finals at the international wrestling championship? Why is it that our children—our flesh and blood—often go for flesh and blood?

The first reason underlying sibling conflicts is that they are generally a pretty typical and a normal part of family life. In fact, one might argue that these conflicts are good training for life. That is, by negotiating childhood conflicts with their brothers or sisters, our kids learn valuable skills for getting along with others in the real world.

For this learning to happen, the following three things must take place in the home:

    1. Children must witness their parents working out disagreements in a cooperative and nonviolent manner. Kids learn a lot from watching us.

    1. Parents must place primary responsibility for solving sibling conflicts on the parties involved—the kids! In other words, parents must stay out of it.

  1. Parents share ideas on how the conflict might be resolved in a healthy manner.

A second reason siblings fight is to get attention and control. When parents yell or lecture to determine “who started it,” to get their kids to “knock it off,” or to get their children to “say sorry and shake hands,” the parents are doing more thinking and worrying than the kids!

Soon the children learn on a subconscious level that they can control the color of their parents’ faces, the volume of their voices, the reserves of their emotional energy, and the potential longevity of their cardiovascular systems.

Have you ever noticed how your kids tend to start a fight just as you start talking on the phone or start a quiet conversation with your spouse? What better way for kids to control their parents?

Fortunately, parents can do three things to keep their children from learning these unhealthy patterns:

    1. Parents take care of themselves by making sure the conflict happens somewhere they can’t see or hear it. They can say, “Feel free to continue this argument someplace where it doesn’t hassle my eyes or ears.”

    1. If the parents are interrupted or inconvenienced by the fighting, they can say, with empathy, “This is so sad. How are you going to repay us for interrupting our conversation? Raking the yard will do.”

  1. If one or both children resist completing the chore, the parent can calmly announce, “I’ll be happy to do the things I do for you around here when you decide to contribute to this family by doing chores.” The parent then “goes on strike” until the child complies. In the meantime, the child can survive on “boring” and “yucky” food like apples, oranges, cold fried chicken, etc.

Next week we will continue this two-part series by looking at two additional reasons that can incite fighting among siblings.


Thanks for reading!

Dr. Charles Fay

angry siblings staring at each other

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