Minimizing the Impact of Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is normal. But understanding its roots and how to minimize its negative impacts can both positively affect sibling relationships (and their family) now AND help prevent adult sibling estrangement later in life.

Roots of Rivalry: Connection and “Power”

For children, attention equals connection. If a child perceives their sibling as getting more or deeper connection from one or both parents, they will use any means to force the attention onto themselves—for instance, by being loud, fighting, breaking things, falling/becoming clumsy, adopting perfectionism, becoming more sensitive, or becoming THE helper.

Similarly, children can have big feelings and big behaviors if they feel a sense of powerlessness as a result of their sibling’s perceived power. They will attempt to claim their power through any means, perhaps by stealing or breaking a sibling’s belongings, lying about or exaggerating a sibling’s behavior/actions, tattling, becoming a bully in other environments, or by exhibiting sudden or new aggressive behaviors themselves.

Disrupt the Discord

If a sibling rivalry is not addressed intentionally, your family system may feel more distressed and siblings risk a continuation of the contentious relationship into adulthood. Try these strategies:

  • Stop using labels, even if they are seemingly positive: the athletic one, the smart one, wild child, the loud one, the slow one, clumsy one.
  • Intentionally arrange one-on-one time (as little as 10 minutes!) with each of your children so they can feel special through your eyes and with your time. Consider mani-pedis, long walks, binge watching shows, listening to music.
  • Model conflict resolution strategies. Give time to calm their emotions, then bring them together, and authentically listen and validate each of their perspectives. Ask them to commit to doing one thing differently next time.
  • Stay out of the conflict UNLESS there is verbal or physical abuse, large power differences, or patterned types of interactions (e.g., removal of personal items or one child always emotionally upset).

Putting these strategies into motion can help set the stage for your children to build strong interpersonal relationships with each other, today and well into their adult lives.

Source: Positive Parenting Solutions