The Silver Lining of Sibling Rivalry and Tips to Reduce It

Whenever your children spend more time together—especially on school breaks and vacations—it increases the odds of tension and full-scale fights regarding anything and everything. As a parent, the vitriol your otherwise sweet cherubs throw at each other is shocking.

When your family is dealing with a serious case of sibling rivalry, it’s common to look anywhere, including Google, and to ask friends and family for ideas to restore peace. While there is no solution that will entirely eliminate sibling rivalry, there are some strategies to improve the situation.

Which Conditions Increase or Reduce Sibling Rivalry?

The first step in reducing the amount of sibling rivalry and changing how it plays out in your home is to examine what conditions exist that strengthen or weaken the tension. As with any human action, if we get a favorable outcome from a behavior, we are more likely to continue that behavior. If there are negative consequences, our desire to continue a behavior is decreased.

Take a thorough look at the situation to identify what’s going on (in the environment, between your children, and with you) by following these steps:

  • What is going on when your kids are fighting? Is a particular activity or toy often involved? Is there a time of day when the rivalry escalates? What are you as parents doing at the time when your kids erupt into a fight?
  • Just listen to your kids interact and play. Notice what happens when a fight starts, escalates, and evolves. How is the interaction between your children? Is there one child who seems to instigate?
  • As the parent, when do you typically step in?
  • Once involved, what do you say and how do you say it? What do you do? Separate the children, take away the toy, scream? How do your children react?

Once you have completed this detective work, you can determine ways to change the circumstances in order to reduce the sibling rivalry disrupting the peace in your home.

Change the Conditions to Lessen Sibling Rivalry in Your Home

  1. Set family rules. The time to set family rules is not when your children are in a full-scale fight. Establish simple rules and explain them to your children during a family meeting when emotions are neutral and they have the best chance of listening and understanding the rules. Allow them to ask questions about the “rules of engagement” so they fully understand expectations. Once established, these rules need to be enforced consistently.
  2. Catch ‘em doing something good. When your children are getting along and playing nicely, be sure to praise them and tell them you appreciate their behavior. This is also important if you determine that part of the sibling rivalry stems from your children wanting your attention. Make sure you are giving them attention for positive behavior.
  3. Turn sibling rivalry into a teaching moment. Fighting with your brother or sister is a good precursor to resolving any kind of conflict. Teach your children conflict resolution skills. Interrupt their fighting and teach them how to respond appropriately if they don’t get their way, how to accept that there are different perspectives and ways of doing things that have equal merit, and the benefits of negotiation and compromise.
  4. Set them up for success. Remove from the equation any toys that might trigger a fight and make yourself available during times when fights are prone to happen, to be able to teach them how to share and ask for a turn in a nice manner. Some children require more structure as they are learning to navigate sibling relationships. Help your children find activities that they enjoy doing together. Give them many opportunities to practice, learn and become better.
  5. Encourage your children to make positive comments to one another. Adults and children alike respond favorably to positive input. Encourage your children to offer compliments to one another and let them experience how kindness can change the dynamic of any situation. Model this behavior yourself.
  6. Set up systems to reward the behavior you want to see. Reinforce the behavior you want to see through reward systems. There are several systems to try, but filling up a jar with cotton balls earned for a good deed is one that is very effective for many families. Families who desire an online reward system should check out iReward, an app that allows you to create a chart or board to help reinforce positive behaviors.

Although it can be difficult, sibling rivalry can help your children learn valuable life-long skills. If your family wants further support to sort out the issues causing the most anguish in your home, contact Psyched Services today. We can help develop strategies specific to your family’s particular needs through our Pocket Coaching sessions.

What have you found that triggers fights among your children?

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