Dear Parents, Here’s How You Can Deal with Sibling Rivalry
Sibling fights, part of family life, can become a cause of concern and stress.
Sibling fights, part of family life, can become a cause of concern and stress.(Photo: iStockphoto)

Dear Parents, Here’s How You Can Deal with Sibling Rivalry

Reetu wanted to cry. Her two kids, Rishabh and Soma were fighting like enemies. Reetu dreaded weekends when she found herself interfering, cajoling and acting as a referee most of the time.

Sibling fights, part of family life, can become a cause of concern and stress. A parent often finds it difficult to know whether one child is bullying the other, or it's just an excuse for parental attention. Parents want to raise kids who get along well in childhood and later develop life-long friendship.

The word 'sibling' refers to children who are related and live in the same family. Sibling conflict is normal, common and has existed since man started living in families. Mythological stories, the Ramayana and Mahabharta are tales about siblings and their struggles.

Dr. Marcia Sirota, Psychiatrist, author and founder of the Ruthless Compassion Institute, says in an article " When siblings are raised in environments where there's conflict chaos, rejection or a lack of protection, it has an enormous impact on how they end up relating to each-other in adult life."

What is Sibling Rivalry?

Siblings, though connected through birth, have different temperaments, genders, emotional set up and attitudes. They haven’t chosen each-other and must share two most important people in their lives, the parents. The competition kids face while growing up is called sibling rivalry and requires judicious handling.

Parental attention is crucial at the young age to trust, feel secure and become emotionally strong. The competition to get it often compels them to express the emotions by bickering, fighting, arguing and yelling.

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Causes of Sibling Rivalry

(Photo: iStockphoto)

Sibling rivalry is basically the inability to respect personal boundaries, space and adjust to harmoniously co-exist.

Age

At a younger age, two-or three-year gap doesn't matter much. A five-year-old and an eight-year-old can happily play together. But when one of them becomes a teenager and the other is ten years old, they can have differences.

Gender

Fathers are gentle towards daughters which could be resented by sons. While a daughter may resent her brother for other reasons. Every child has special expectations from parents and if these aren’t fulfilled, issues will arise.

Position in Family

Differences in parental behaviour depend on the child’s position in the family.

Parents often have high expectations from the older child who is often burdened with responsibilities towards home and younger siblings.

Understanding that an older child in the family hierarchy is also a kid and needs to learn coping skills is important. The younger kids on the other hand are always treated as babies. It is natural for a mother to be overprotective of her youngest kid. However, parents should avoid treating the youngest kids as babies after a certain age.

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The Role of Parents

Being totally fair and objective can make parent-kid relationship unnatural.
Being totally fair and objective can make parent-kid relationship unnatural.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Realizing that it's not about treating kids equally or being totally impartial and fair is vital. Clarity about rules, responsibilities and privileges being age dependent is essential. For example, a 13-year-old may have 10 pm as bedtime, but a ten-year-old must go to bed by 9 pm.

Being totally fair and objective can make parent-kid relationship unnatural. Parents can’t behave in the same way as a plan. For example, if a mother hugs one of them for any reason and if she feels compelled to hug the other just to appear neutral, the spontaneous gesture of affection loses meaning.

Don't Compare

Comparison creates resentment and low self-esteem. Every child is unique. When parent's compare, one child feels superior and the other inferior causing animosity between siblings.

Freedom of Expression

Ignoring or supressing, angry outbursts isn’t a solution. An angry child is a hurting child. Anger rises from a sense of injustice that hurts and requires compassionate attention.

Young kids lack the skills to express their feelings. It helps if a parent can put it into words, for example, “Do you feel angry because your sister is getting mom's attention?”

Once the child knows that her needs are acknowledged, verbalized and met she will become calmer. Self- control comes with age. Kids need to be educated to recognize and ask for their needs without getting into disruptive behaviour.

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Interfere: When and How Much

Sometimes it’s difficult to cope with constant fights, hitting and yelling. Knowing when and how much to interfere and when to ignore is crucial.

Parental intervention is required at a young age when the collaborating and negotiating skills are absent. Ignoring conflicts at this age makes kids feel unsupported.

However, intervention doesn’t mean offering solutions. They don’t need solutions but resolution strategies. If kids are having a disagreement, refrain from favouring one kid or taking sides to avoid power struggle. Ask them to come up with a solution on their own. Most of the time they will. Offering readymade solutions creates a co-dependency pattern and hinders learning of the conflict resolution skills.

Deciding when to interfere depends on the situation and family dynamics. If a conflict on an issue becomes a repetitive pattern, interfere is required, because apparently the resolving skills are lacking.

Ask about a possible solution or offer ideas to negotiate. Let them discuss. Kids know their siblings and can come up with happy solutions.

Avoid making sibling fights an overwhelming issue. Mostly, it’s a phase and kids learn to live together, develop loving bonds and become best friends.

(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer, and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting and travel. You can read part one of this blog here)

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