One of the most popular talks at our Pediatrics & Parenting event was on sibling rivalry. Any parent with two or more children understands the issues that can arise within sibling relationships and how much jealousy, competition and fighting can drive everyone crazy. But how can we best handle these dynamics and cultivate a better family environment? We asked advice from parenting expert Marie Marchand.
What are some advantages of having a sibling?
Interestingly enough, there are many advantages in having a sibling. I asked the question to my three children who are now young adults, and in their opinion having a sibling allows you to learn:
- about conflict resolution
- how to share
- to negotiate
- how to become more compassionate
- how to love
- how to be friends and what a friend is
- how to cooperate
- how to compromise
- how to reconcile
- how to take care of each other
- how to maintain a long-time relationship
And of course, a sibling also allows you to have someone to play with or hang out and to get into mischief with!
As parents, what factors should we be aware of that may contribute to jealousy, competition or tension between siblings?
The most common factors are:
- The order in which the children are born (oldest, middle, youngest)
- The gender
- The age (e.g. gap between two children)
- Different temperaments (e.g. a sensitive child in the same family as one that is not so sensitive can cause issues)
- Parenting style (e.g. parents that compare children, that ignore the feelings of a child, parents that blame the same child for everything, etc.)
- Some children may feel disconnected to their parents, like their ‘love’ cup is empty because a parent seems to favor a sibling. This may create misbehavior and acting out.
Should you prevent sibling conflict, or is it a part of growing up and the development process in children?
As parents, it is our responsibility to keep our children safe. I believe that you should train children on how best to deal with conflict when they are young, guide them through the process as they grow older, encourage with positive feedback, teach them how to listen to each other, help them brainstorm ideas to deal with their issues, teach them to negotiate and make compromises, and then let them deal with the conflicts and experience the feeling of being able to work it out positively.
What are your recommendations for encouraging siblings to get along?
- Connect with each child individually and if possible daily, be 100% present (no phones!)(e.g. reading a book, a game, a walk, a cuddle after bath, a meal, etc.)
- Recognize each child’s uniqueness and individuality (e.g. “You give great hugs” or “You can run so fast” or “You really enjoy ballet, don’t you?”)
- Avoid labels and judgmental comparisons (e.g. “He is the smart one” or “She is the artist in the family” or “The lazy one”)
- Don’t expect an older child to be perfect (e.g. “You are such a nice big brother, give your baby brother/sister a hug” or “I expect you as an older child to share your toys nicely”)
- Acknowledge how your children are feeling (“I can see you are disappointed that I haven’t spent time with you” or “You seem envious that your sister is going to a birthday party” or “I wonder if you find it hard having a new baby in our family now…”)
- Teach children to express their feelings without labelling or hurting others, teach them to ask for help (e.g. “When Sam destroys my construction, I feel frustrated because it took me a long time to make it, and I need your help dad”)
- Set specific getting-along rules (e.g. gentle hands, share some toys, respect each other’s possessions, giggle and laugh every day, etc.)
- Focus on the positive and describe what you see (e.g. “When you shared your toy with Sam, I could see that made him smile, well done!” or “You are giving her a hug so gently, that is kind” or “I can see that sharing was a little tricky but you did it!” or “You guys sorted this problem all by yourselves, give me five!”)
- Teach children how to deal with conflict fairly (do not take sides, become the mediator, listen to both parties, brainstorm ideas to resolve the issue, choose a mutually agreed solution, try it and set limits).