Tips for Reducing Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is not likely to ever be eliminated, nor should it be. If there are no brother-sister struggles in your family, you may assume that one child is giving orders and the other accepting those orders. Children should have differences and should be assertive enough to express and even argue these differences. Thus, some sibling quarrels and fighting are Boys Fightinga healthy indication that none of the children are completely submissive.

Don't try to mediate or determine which child is to blame. The attention you give to the rivalry usually serves to reward the fighting behavior. That is, each child tries to get the parents on his or her side. Your mediations are likely to increase the rivalry. Parents should first encourage their children to work things out themselves.

Do set limits for reasonable noise levels or aggressive behaviors. Reserve the option of separating the children for fifteen minutes or half an hour if they’re not able to solve their problem. Any two different rooms will do. They will soon discover it’s better to discuss their differences than be separated.

Try to build positive and cooperative relationships. A token reward system can be used temporarily to reinforce children for their cooperative behavior. That works well particularly when siblings are required to spend a great amount of time together, for example, during summer vacation or a long car ride. By dividing the day into two or three sections, children can receive a point for each time period of cooperative behavior. Early morning to noon might be one section of the day, afternoon to evening meal could be a second section, and the evening meal to bedtime could be a third section. Siblings can receive a point if both children are being nice to each other. That encourages their cooperation. The goal is to accumulate a small number of points (10 to 15) toward an activity that both children can participate in, like going out for pizza, seeing a a movie, or renting a special video. You'll know that your program has been effective when one child teases and the other one says that it doesn't bother them because he or she knew it was all in fun.

Build cooperative sibling behavior by using surprise planning. When one parent gets the children together to plan a surprise for the other parent or for a third child, then the children get involved in cooperative planning and feel closer. An alliance with a positive goal builds unity. The secrets of gift giving, surprises, and parties seem to unite brothers and sisters and diminish arguing. Planning something special for a family member, neighbor, or friend encourages a sense of togetherness that comes from joint efforts. Parents can effectively use cooperative strategies frequently to build sibling closeness within the family.

Sibling rivalry almost always affects children's achievement. Children tend to easily assume that their achievement appears more impressive if their brothers and sisters performance is not as good. Explain to your children that it's nice to have a "whole smart family" and that achievement by one child doesn't limit achievement by the others. I suggest that children should be encouraged to admit any feelings of jealousy. Most children have them. They learn to handle these feelings better by accepting the challenge of openly admiring their sisters or brothers. That seems to help everyone and minimizes the put-downs.

Don't take sides when your children put each other down. However, you should communicate your concern privately to the one who is doing the putting down. There's a much better chance of improved behavior if you don't correct the child in front of siblings.

Don't appoint your achiever to the role of tutor for your underachiever. It will serve only as a daily put-down for the other. The underachiever may not understand or be able to express those feelings. Children often say they appreciate the help, but "it makes me feel dumb."

©2002 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.