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Sibling rivalry

05 June 2014, 10:17

Your children are constantly at each other’s throats and all your attempts to discipline them have failed. Despondent and drained you feel as if your offspring will never get along and are destined to be at odds for life.

People advise you to let your children sort out their own differences, yet research shows that the amount of sibling rivalry in a family is determined by how well the parents manage the children. Murphy discovered that parents who respect children’s needs and feelings can develop positive sibling interaction and reduce sibling rivalry.

Children are not born with an instruction manual on how to get along with others, and be considerate of their needs. They need to be taught by you, their parents how to socialise.  The first social interaction your child has is with his siblings, and so teaching him polite, compassionate ways of interacting with his brothers and sisters will empower him for life.  A study by Cambridge University into sibling rivalry shows that “the quality, as well as the quantity of conversations adults have with their children concerning thoughts and feelings, helps children’s social understanding to grow.”

Beginning with toddlers your role as a parent is like that of a conductor of an orchestra. You need to be watching your children constantly guiding and showing them appropriate ways of interacting.They will copy your way of dealing with people, so if you are polite and gentle they will most likely be the same.

Once children have learned to be empathetic and express their feelings appropriately, it will not be necessary to always be involved when your children have a dispute. Hopefully, they will have learnt from you to resolve disagreements without hurting their siblings, but if the disagreement does escalate and they are unable to resolve it in a peaceful way, you will intervene by way of teaching conflict resolution.

Set up three chairs. The children and you sit down, and the first child has a chance to express his concerns. The second child then reflects back what his brother or sister said. The second child then expresses her concerns and the first child reflects back what his sister said. You then ask them to devise a plan that will meet both their needs, and guide them into developing that plan. You do not take sides, criticise, or give your opinion but merely mediate a resolution.      

To lessen the amount of sibling rivalry in the home it is necessary for parents to teach children that the family is like a sports team which works together, supporting and encouraging each other. If each member of a team is competing against each other the team will not be very happy or successful. If parents are competitive and value competition amongst their children it will add to the amount of sibling rivalry in the home.

Parents should focus on giving each child one on one time by organising dates, and avoid comparing siblings. Rather identify each child’s talents and strengths and encourage children to develop their own talents and support those of their siblings. Research by Brody and Stoneman suggests that “equal, but not necessarily identical, treatment of all siblings is key to successfully managing sibling rivalry.”  

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them,” advises Ralph Nichols. Teaching your children to argue and resolve problems in a peaceful way is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, so do not fear sibling rivalry but rather use it as an opportunity to demonstrate good negotiation skills.

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