4 Tips to stop sibling rivalry
“Stop Fighting”. This has been the soundtrack refrain in my house recently. Maybe it’s the summer of being together more or just that BusyBee is getting older and into Sprout’s toys, but it seems that there is always somebody crying or screaming! I know this is just normal sibling rivalry* but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.
For the most part, Daddy and I really try to step in only when somebody is going to get hurt. Unfortunately, this is still pretty often when it’s a 2-year-old and 4-year-old in the fight. Letting Sprout and BusyBee “work it out” sometimes does help them to learn to resolve differences between each other, but we don’t want the resolution to be whomever bites or hits first gets the toy. Daddy and I also try to involve the boys in the resolution to help them learn. We have even started to teach Sprout a few “tricks” of his own to resolve fights. Sprout’s recent favorite recently is what he calls “The Jedi Mind Trick,” which entails allowing BusyBee to have the toy they are fighting over and getting a new toy to play with. Inevitably, BusyBee will decide he needs that “new toy” more and Sprout is back with the original toy in no time…and in the meantime, there is no fighting! Of course, this doesn’t always work, as sometimes, Sprout is not willing to give up on the original toy and occasionally BusyBee doesn’t take the bait. In those situations, Daddy and I will diffuse the situation with one of the following interventions:
- Eliminating the toy causing distress (“putting the toy in time out”)
- Setting up a schedule for the desired object (for example you get the light saber when the big hand is on the 5)
- Separation of the boys for a short period to give a “cooling off” time.
We try to avoid playing the “blame game” of who had it first as there is nearly always “more to the story”. Also choosing “a side” can be viewed as favoritism by children and can lead to even more sibling rivalry. Of course, there are always consequences if someone has acted in a hurtful manner, as this behavior is not tolerated no matter who was wronged first.
But even better than intervening is preventing! Here are four ways to minimize sibling rivalry that we are trying in our home:
- Try to give children some “time off” from the other siblings during the day. Whether that be a special play date or even preschool/school, just having some time away can help.
- Try to give each child some undivided attention during the day from mom and dad.
- Don’t compare children to their siblings as this can set up an adversarial relationship. Try to remind them that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
- Praise, praise, praise! We would all rather give attention for good things than bad. Praise your children when they are playing well together or showing good teamwork to encourage more of this behavior.
I know that as the years go on, this sibling rivalry will not disappear but will change as my children grow and change. Teaching them now how to resolve differences will hopefully make these coming years more enjoyable for everyone.
*Although some sibling rivalry is normal, it can become excessive. Repeated physical or emotional abuse from one sibling to another is not normal and should be discussed with your primary care physician as it may be a sign of underlying distress.
By: Dr. Stacy Meyer - “Dr. Mom Squad”
Dr. Meyer is a pediatric endocrinologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. She is the mother of two boys who she lovingly refers to as “Busy Bee” and “Sprout!” As part of the “Dr. Mom Squad,” Dr. Meyer blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. Meyer!