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Sibling Rivalry
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Sibling Rivalry

When I brought my daughter home from the hospital, my stepson, who was a year old and had been well prepared for the birth of his baby sister, gave her a nudge with his foot. I'm pretty sure that what he wanted to do was to give her a swift kick. Days later, that same curly-haired angel approached his baby sister bearing a raw potato which he then presented to her as if it were his most important possession. This obvious peace offering, following so closely on the heels of my stepson's poorly-hidden dismay at having his position as only child usurped by a crying, screaming bundle that clearly intended to steal the attention of the adults in his life, came to define their relationship. It still does.

They are now 19 and 20, and their relationship, despite the fact that there have been three more siblings and step siblings added to the mix, is still defined by, at best, a hint of sibling rivalry. It doesn't matter if kids are siblings, step-siblings, or half-siblings, sibling rivalry will rule someone at some time during the relationship. In some cases, like the one described above, the rivalry may last a lifetime – in some form. In other cases, it's a here-and-gone thing such as when one has a toy that the other one wants. Adults often claim that they don't understand why and how sibling rivalry occurs, but, really, it's the same "grass-is-greener" phenomenon that "big people" experience, just on a smaller, yet often more passionate, scale.

Sibling Rivalry Tips

Possibly the most disconcerting things for parents to work out is whether or not they should get involved or just let the kids "fight it out." The answer to this perplexing question is… both. In some cases, kids need to figure things out for themselves; in others, an adult should step in. It goes without saying that if one or both children is in immediate physical harm or the situation seems about to boil over into bullying, name calling, or some other form of completely inappropriate behavior, a parent should intervene right away. Other situations, unfortunately, are less cut and dried. Kids fight for a number of different reasons, all of which seem to be of the utmost importance to them and leave us adults shaking our heads. Many times, when siblings are close in age, they fight to see who comes out on the top of the heap. The sure-you're-older-but-I'm-better battle. Others fight, especially when they are younger, because their entire world revolves around them and they certainly don't understand why everyone else doesn't feel the same way. Yet others fight because their temperaments just don't mesh. In the worst case scenarios, kids fight because it's what they know. Either their parents, or other caretakers, resolve conflicts by fighting and have modeled this behavior as the only way their kids know to do the same. As a parent, it's hard not to get involved. We feel that we have to "teach" our kids everything even though some lessons are best learned firsthand. It's also very difficult for families to deal with the stress of conflict – especially when that conflict involves very loud teenagers. It's important to remember that it takes two people to fight. So, regardless of which kid appears to be in the right, both are wrong for letting things spiral out of control. Your first move as parent is to deescalate the situation – calm them down. The best way to do this is to separate the combatants.

  • Put them in separate corners or different rooms, whatever works.
  • Make sure that they can't talk to each other or do that face-making, gesture-flying, lip-moving type of silent arguing that kids do behind parents' backs when they aren't looking.

Once they have calmed down, you can act as intermediary.

  • Be prepared to be a fair and impartial judge who mediates the situation by allowing only one to speak at a time.
  • Reserve judgment for when both have finished speaking, and try to set up the verdict so that each participant gets something and/or loses something.

Avoid placing blame. Remember, they were both participants in the battle. Arguing, within reason, actually teaches kids how to manage conflict. Given that conflict, in some form, is always present in life, it's important for kids to learn that they don't always get what they want and that it isn't the end of the world. After all, it's not ok if your teenager has a fit when she doesn't get the seat on the bus she wants. Teaching them to argue intelligently and fairly and still maintain good feelings about the person they're arguing with is imperative to raising well-adjusted kids.