Sibling Rivalry Solutions: Practical Ideas from Child Psychologists  

Sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up with brothers and sisters, but it doesn’t have to disrupt your family life. Understanding the causes of these conflicts can be the first step in creating a more peaceful home where your children can thrive together. Need some practical tips to manage sibling rivalry at your home? Here are some practical tips from Kids First’s Child Psychologists that you can try today: 

Sibling rivalry is a common problem in many families

Ensure equal and unconditional love

It’s vital that each child feels valued for who they are, not just for their achievements or behaviour.

You might set up ‘special time’ with each child, perhaps a weekly date where you do something they choose, just the two of you. Whether it’s a walk, playing a board game, or reading together, this one-on-one time can reinforce your unconditional love and attention, reducing feelings of competition.

Teach conflict resolution skills

Conflict is a part of life, and learning to handle it constructively is a valuable skill.

Using “I feel” statements can transform how children communicate during conflicts, fostering a more empathetic and understanding atmosphere. Here are more practical examples to help guide this process:

Situation: One child takes another’s toy without asking.

  • Typical reaction: “Stop! You always take my stuff without asking!”
  • I feel statement: “I feel frustrated when you take my toys without asking because I was playing with it. Can you please ask me next time?”

Situation: Siblings arguing over who gets to choose the TV show.

  • Typical reaction: “You picked last time! It’s my turn now!”
  • I feel statement: “I feel upset because I thought it was my turn to choose the TV show. Can we take turns so it’s fair for both of us?”

Situation: One sibling feels left out when the other has friends over.

  • Typical reaction: “You never play with me when your friends are here!”
  • I feel statement: “I feel lonely when you have friends over and don’t include me. Maybe we can all play together for a while?”

Situation: A sibling interrupts another’s homework time.

  • Typical reaction: “You’re so annoying! Get out of my room!”
  • I feel statement: “I feel distracted when you come in and talk to me while I’m doing homework. Could we chat after I’m done?”

Teaching your children to express their feelings and needs clearly and calmly helps them understand each other better and solve conflicts without resentment.

Of course, the first step to teaching your child a new skill is modelling it yourself! When your children see you responding to tense moments with respect for others, they are more likely to use these skills themselves.

Children learn conflict resolution skills from their parents

Celebrate individuality

Even though your children may share similar hair and eye colour, each child has their own strengths and interests.

You can reduce the level of sibling rivalry in your family when you encourage these differences by providing opportunities for each child to pursue their own hobbies.

Celebrating the individual interests and talents of each child not only supports their personal development but also enhances the family dynamics by reducing competition and fostering mutual respect. Here are some practical examples to help you celebrate the individuality of your children:

Art and Science
If one child enjoys art and another is fascinated by science, you could set up a weekend project where they can combine their interests. The artist could draw or paint planets, dinosaurs, or molecules, while the scientist explains the concepts behind these subjects. This can be displayed as a “mini-museum” at home where they both contribute their knowledge and skills.

Music and Dance
For a child who loves music and another who is into dance, organise a family talent show where each can showcase their passion. The musician can play a piece, while the dancer choreographs a routine to the same song. This not only allows them to shine individually but also to collaborate creatively.

Cooking and Gardening
If one child has a green thumb and another enjoys cooking, you can connect their interests by starting a small family garden. The gardening child can be responsible for growing herbs and vegetables, while the culinary enthusiast can use these fresh ingredients to prepare meals for the family. This encourages them to appreciate each other’s contributions and see how their hobbies complement each other.

Literature and Storytelling
A child who loves to read and another who enjoys storytelling can work together to create their own family storybook. The reader can choose their favourite stories for inspiration, and the storyteller can come up with new twists or characters. They can even illustrate the book together, combining their talents into a shared family treasure.

Technology and Design
For children interested in technology and design, you might encourage them to work on a project where they can build and design something together, like a simple robot or a website. The tech-savvy child can handle the programming aspect, while the design-oriented child can work on the aesthetics, such as the robot’s appearance or the website’s layout.

These activities not only celebrate each child’s unique talents and interests but also teach them the value of collaboration and mutual respect, which are crucial for nurturing positive sibling relationships.

Celebrating each child’s individual interests can reduce sibling rivalry

Set clear family rules

Creating a family charter is a fantastic way to foster cooperation and respect among siblings. Here are some specific, practical suggestions to make this process engaging and effective:

Family Meeting: Schedule a family meeting specifically for the purpose of creating the family charter. Make it a special event, perhaps with some snacks, to set a positive and collaborative tone. Let each child know that their input is valuable and will be respected.

Discussion and Brainstorming: Start with a conversation about why rules are necessary and how they can help everyone get along better. Encourage each child to share what they feel are the most important rules for the family. You might prompt them with questions like, “What do you think we could do to make sure everyone feels heard?” or “How can we make sharing easier?”

Drafting the Rules: Discuss the common problems your kids have when it comes to getting along such as:

  • Taking Turns: Define specific scenarios where taking turns is necessary, such as playing video games or choosing TV shows. You could use timers or create a weekly schedule that outlines who gets to decide on entertainment options each day.
  • Sharing Toys: Establish rules about asking for permission before using someone else’s belongings. Consider a system for borrowing items, like a simple sign-out sheet that tracks who is using what.
  • Respecting Space: Agree on rules about knocking on bedroom doors before entering or having certain times of the day when rooms are ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to siblings.

Writing the Charter: Once you’ve agreed on the rules, write them down together. You could make this creative by making a large poster to hang in a communal area or crafting a booklet. Let the children help with decorating the charter, perhaps by drawing illustrations or using stickers.

Signing the Charter: Have everyone sign the charter as a commitment to follow the rules. This can be a formal ceremony where each child is given the floor to voice their commitment, reinforcing their sense of responsibility.

Review and Adjust: Set a date to review the charter, perhaps every few months, to make adjustments based on what’s working or what isn’t. This keeps the rules relevant and shows that you value everyone’s ongoing input.

By involving your children in the creation of family rules, you not only make them more likely to adhere to the guidelines, but also teach them important skills in negotiation, fairness, and cooperation.

Encourage teamwork

Design activities that require cooperation to succeed. This could be as simple as making a meal together, where each child is responsible for a part of the meal, or perhaps a team treasure hunt where siblings need to work together to solve clues.

Through teamwork, siblings can experience the joy and benefits of working together, which can translate into better relationships during playtime.

Sibling rivalry is normal, but solvable

By weaving these approaches into your daily life, you can help your children build stronger bonds and manage sibling rivalry in a positive, constructive way. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate conflict entirely but to teach your children how to handle their disagreements with respect and empathy. This not only soothes the day-to-day dynamics but also lays the groundwork for strong sibling relationships that last a lifetime

Do your kids need help to get along?

If you have concerns about the conflict between your children, speak with an independent professional who has the training to help. This could be their early childhood educator, paediatrician, or a child psychologist. These professionals can assess work with you to develop strategies to support your child’s problem solving and emotional regulation skills.

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