If you have more than one child, you know about the types of sibling rivalry and sibling struggles that can exist. You probably even know that sibling rivalry between kids can be even more pronounced when they are close in age. But, did you know that the very word rivalry means competition?
1. UNDERSTAND your children have an important need – just like you.
The first step in learning how to handle sibling rivalry is to know why they feel they are in competition. You see, everyone was created with a basic need to feel loved, accepted, and valued JUST AS YOU ARE. Whether you follow Jesus or not, this is true of you! There are ways we try to get this need met. Some of these include: Trying to be “good” enough or looking a certain way. Maybe for you it was excelling in school or sports or playing an instrument. However, the bottom line is this. When your children are looking for unconditional love from you, they soon begin competing with each other for it!
2. HELP your children understand this universal need.
While this is a difficult concept for very young children to grasp, it IS important to start talking about it when they are young, so as they grow physically and in maturity, they can understand more and begin to verbalize it themselves. Oftentimes, a child isn’t even aware he is feeling badly, but everyone around him sure is!
This starts by you NOTICING when your child may be feeling frustrated or angry with her sibling and MAKING A GUESS at the need or desire she has that isn’t being met. For example if she says, “I hate my baby sister! Can’t she go back where she came from?” You recognize that she may be feeling left out and that’s the only way she can express it. Sometimes we’re tempted to say, “You don’t really feel that way.” Or “You don’t hate the baby, you LOVE her!” Instead, reframe it by saying, “You really wish I could give you all my attention right now, and your baby sister has been taking up a lot of my time. That’s hard.”
Another way you could NOTICE is by saying something like, “It seems like you have a hard time taking turns with your brother. I wonder why that is so hard?” This is a non-threatening way to help your child reflect on her actions and be more open and able to problem-solve it. When your children are fighting over a toy and one ends up crying, we may be tempted to throw the toy in the trash so NO ONE can have it, but instead try this: “You really wanted your brother to share the toy with you and he didn’t. That hurt your feelings.”
3. MAKE appropriate family guidelines.
We had a family guidelines around rough-housing: No hitting in the face and rough-housing is OVER once someone says, “Stop!” This had two more benefits. One was to practice: Mean what you say and say what you mean. The second was to practice respecting others’ words. Stop means stop!
You may have a family guideline like this one: You can’t ask for something someone else is using until they are done with it. A mom explained that they have this guideline because “It’s just good manners!” She said, imagine you were just given a photo album to look at and someone immediately says, “Can I see?” Well, that would be rude! Of course, saying, “Oh! Can I see when you’re done?” would be acceptable.
- Here are other examples of “Family Guidelines” to help children relate well with their siblings and others in their lives:
- Use only given names or loving nicknames (No, “butt-face” is not a loving nickname)
- Touch each other gently.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated.
- Keep your voice self-controlled…unless the house is on fire 🤪
What family guidelines could you develop? How about: Take three deep breaths before responding? Or: When telling a sibling something they did wrong, start and end with what you love about them. Share in the comments your family guidelines – I’d love to hear them!
4. KNOW THIS: The kids you have are no mistake.
This fourth point is to encourage you. You may be going through a particularly tough season with your kids not getting along well. They may not have been planned by you, but it is no accident that you have the ones you do! Whether they are Biological, Step, or otherwise! It is also no mistake that these kids have the brothers and sisters that they have. Whether at this house or their other house!
There was a time our boys may have be tempted to think, Well, he’s not even REALLY my brother. But we believe that just because they don’t share blood, GOD put our family together. Thoughts like that are from the enemy and don’t do anyone any good.
So remember, and remind your kids, that the family you have, we were given for a purpose. Maybe God allowed you to have a child with a special need. Or maybe He allowed a sibling to have a disability to gain compassion that you may not have otherwise. Perhaps God allowed you to make the choices you did to have the children you have now. What we DO know is that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not ours (Isaiah 55:8-10). You also may want to remind your kids that their siblings are going to be their siblings for LIFE. Friends can come and go. But your siblings will be there celebrating milestones, holidays, and so on with you. And those relationship roots start now!
5. MEETING the universal need with one on one time
We need to make sure we are carving out one-on-one time with each of our children on a regular basis. It may be easier when they are younger as they seem to simply NEED you more. However, even teenagers crave (and NEED) one-on-one time with both Mom and Dad!
Connection Creates Cooperation
Have you ever tried Talk Time? Use 5 – 10 minutes with just the two of you once or twice a week right before bed. This is a time when your child directs the conversation and you simply listen to and answer their questions. This intentional time will build connections between you and your child that will lead to cooperation! It goes so far in strengthening your individual relationships and collective family relationships.
How about Date Nights (for Mom/son or Dad/daughter) or Man/Woman Time (for Dad/son or Mom/daughter)? You can take your child out for an ice cream or a bike ride. Just the two of you. These times will be some of the best memories you can make together!
Here is a ten minute LIVE Mini-Training that discusses the ideas in this article:
Kate Fraiser is a Parent Coach with Connect Point Moms helping you create stronger relational connections with the children in your life. This starts with being aware of your own stuff so you can BE PRESENT with your children in the moment you’re in, and then knowing and using the best ways to communicate with them. For quick and helpful parenting videos, find her on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or Facebook.