Every child, even an only child, has the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are commonly associated with the catchphrase “sibling rivalry.” If you look underneath the conflicts that go along with sibling rivalry, you will usually find questions: Am I truly and absolutely loved? Am I wanted? What is special about me? Do I have any power? How much love is there—can my parents completely love me and my sibling or friend at the same time? Can I affect my environment? Why can my sibling/friend do something and I can’t? How and why did my sibling/friend get “that” and I didn’t?
Typically, these questions are worked out through children’s play, though they may at times need a parent’s help and attention. Often, sibling rivalry results when children feel that they are getting less–or are even anticipating getting less–attention than their sibling or friend. Here are a few suggestions to offer to your children and their playmates when they need your help with sibling rivalry.
Sometimes, all you need to do is offer them a solution. “Time for snack.” “Time to go outside.” “Time for a break from each other.”
You can suggest that you are willing to hear what their solutions might include. Realize that you will need to remain engaged and encourage them in the process. Let them know that you believe they can and will find a solution that works for everyone. “It seems like you all are spending so much time fighting over whose turn it is that no one is getting to play the game. How can everyone get a turn?” Children often find creative solutions.
Give your kids love and affection. Often, if we give our kids special time together, they feel secure in our love for them, and they have fewer underlying questions that trigger the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are typical of sibling rivalry.
Stay calm and let them know what you see and hear. In doing so, you are beginning to nudge them to reflect on the situation themselves. “You want that toy because it is yours, and your sister wants that toy because she has never had a turn with it. How can we help everyone feel happy?”
Be playful when you need to intervene. You can pretend you are the narrator of a story, and the siblings are the characters of the story. Ham it up, be dramatic, and repeat some of what you have heard them say. If you can be calm and a little bit silly, you might find the conflict turns into laughter for all involved.