Dealing With Sibling Rivalry

When talking about happiness and how to achieve it, almost always you will find the family mentioned as an integral part of being happy and secure, or compared to the biggest treasures one can find. I, personally, have always been inclined to having or being a part of a big family, believing that there is no bigger happiness than the one consisted of a house full of laughter, noise, children screaming of joy or even anger, a house full of parents and siblings.

But to keep it real, on one side, there is the joy and happiness of being a part of a big family, and always having someone to share your thoughts with, but on the other side, with the family members increasing, the opportunities for misunderstandings, arguing, debating and yelling at each other also increases.

I have one brother, two years younger than me and right now my family is consisted of me, my husband and my little boy, so I don’t really have a personal experience of being a part of a big family. But since I was seven years old, we always used to spend the holidays, especially the summer breaks, in the company of my cousins, sometimes at their home other times at ours. Meaning that, for almost three months out of the year, I was a part of a gang made of five kids at different age. We were together the entire time, playing, going on adventures (some of which, we still keep as top secrets), eating together, sleeping in the same room, exploring together, doing a lot of crazy things together. And those are definitely the most beautiful memories of my childhood. Of course we have had many misunderstandings and fights, I’ve been left aside as a not fitting part, I’ve left aside my little brother for a sole reason of being a boy in a gang of girls so many times, but still we were such a happy and unbeatable gang, we ruled the neighborhoods not being afraid of anyone. How it was for our parents though, is another point of view.
I’ve actually spoken to my mom and my aunt recently about their points of view for this matter, and I was pleasantly surprised that both of them actually rated it as a positive experience and they both said that given the opportunity they will definitely do it again. I was thinking that the basic care for that many children would be exhausting, but they actually said that it is much easier cooking for many children instead of cooking for one, since we were more prone to eating anything that the rest of the bunch is eating and being pickier when eating alone. And the whole caring process came easier since there were ten extra helping hands in the kitchen, washing dishes and throwing out the garbage. When there are many kids in the house it means that all the necessary activities like teeth brushing and bathing must be done in a hurry. Therefore, without delaying and inventing excuses, the bathing was usually a great splashing game with two kids under shower. The sleeping part though was a memory not worth mentioning for our parents, since it was so fun for us to tell stories, go through the day, and giggle under covers and we usually stayed up later than what they preferred to be a bed time.
Aside from the bright part of the big family situation, I would like to give some opinions and solutions for the other not- so-bright part of having many siblings – the constant battle for attention, the fighting between siblings and how to help them overcome their issues.
We all know that the siblings fighting and confronting is quite a normal part from the family life, and it is present in almost every family, some even believe (like me) that those are the preparations for the real world – through negotiating with your brother or sister you are actually improving and getting better at the most important skill related to interaction with other people, and you also learn different ways of problem solving, like making a compromise, offering a bribe, trying different convincing strategies and so on.
As parents we shall interfere only when there is some kind of danger, and for all the other cases we shall only make lessons of their fighting and offer different solutions, and never take the judge role or choose who is to blame, the fault lies always with the both parts.
In order to help them better in overcoming their issues, I believe that we should start at recognizing the reasons for their fighting. In my opinion, these may be some of them:

1. Kids learn a lot by watching us! And even adult relationships are consisted of some arguing, and a loud voice problem solving. Next time your guys start fighting, try to remember if they have recently witnessed an argument between you and your spouse. Experiences of such kind teaches them that sometimes it is necessary to argue, raise your voice or be stubborn in order to get it your way. Therefore, when you are trying to teach them a lesson, you shall also mention that previous situation using it as an example that arguing and discussing is good but what’s better is to be able to hear what the other side has to say and to make a compromise, to even give right to your brother/sister and cut them some slack so that they will do it for you in another occasion.

2. Another reason for their fighting may be that one of them feels somewhat inferior related to the other sibling. Usually the fault for this lies in us, as parents. Sometimes in order to improve our children’s behavior, we compare them, making them apply some value from their brothers/sisters behavior in their own. This does more harm than good. During the childhood, we all react badly on criticizing. We don’t like it if people, especially our parents, don’t like us for something we have done or said. We can’t see or feel the positive effect the criticizing should provoke, we only feel bad and get upset, and at times feel angry. I remember that whenever my mom used to say to me: “Why can’t you be more like your brother? See how he always keeps his room clean and he always makes his bed!” it always provoked anger and rage towards my brother, never a change in my actions. And this would made me make a mess in my brothers room or undo his bed in order to make us equal, and yes, my brother would react to my bad behavior and that’s quite a reason for a good fighting.
When this was the case, it would always end worse if our parents were involved in solving the issues. When we were left to deal on our own, we would always end with hugging each other and cleaning both of our rooms to perfection. So, the solution would be to let them deal with their problem, not making it your problem too.

3. One of the most common reasons why siblings are fighting is because it gives them attention and control, and power is something that even adults crave for. That power and control I mentioned above is in our direction, not their siblings. They usually ask for our attention, and the easiest way and the fastest way to receive it is by playing victim of some kind of unfairness and acting hurt. Children are so good in observing our actions that they learn quite early to distinct the colors and shape changes on our faces, and to relate them with the right emotions. They know just by looking at our faces are we approving of their actions or we are getting annoyed or even angry at them, and believe me they do know the triggers. And yes, they are applying them in their behavior when needed. Have you noticed how your kids start to fight when you are having an important conversation with your spouse, or when you’re watching your favorite TV show? Wouldn’t that be a great way to control the parents?
The next time they do it, try showing them that you are aware of their doing, and take over the control by saying: too bad your fighting interrupted our conversation, now you will have to clean your rooms as a way to say you are sorry. This way they learn that they can’t manipulate you so easily and that would lead to respect towards your actions. Soon they will stop interrupting you or even place their fight in their room where they can solve their issues on their own.
Don’t forget to give your kids a lots of individual attention, every child shall have a “special time alone” with their parents, so that they can feel loved and accepted for what they are. Kid that feels as loved as they were before they had a sibling, rarely fights with their brothers/sisters.

4. Another reason for fighting with a sibling is about space or a toy.

The best way to deal with this reason is to make sure that every kid is provided with their own personal space. If there are no possibilities for separate rooms, distinguishing which part of the room belongs to whom will do, or you can even paint a line in the middle of the room. The other part of the solution is to make a distinction with the kids toys and clothes. They should know which thing belongs to whom. Of course they must share toys and clothes, but make sure they know that the sharing process regards both sides and it can happen when they both agree on, for as long as they both agree.

5. Another way to avoid a fighting situation is to stop imposing responsibilities on your older child in relation to the younger. Don’t make them watch their brother/sister or play with him/her. That should happen only when they want. If they are both in the mood for playing, they won’t be fighting. Help teaching them how to be a team. You can do this by rewarding their team efforts, for example whenever they complete some chore together, award them with a visit to the zoo, or going to the poll, or some other activity they love.
At the end, remember that they are just kids and soon they will grow over it and they will understand how to respect each other. They will find the way towards their sibling in time and on their own, after as many fights as needed. It is a necessary part of the process of accepting and appreciating your brother/sister. Soon, they will become best friends and you will be the one they will pick a fight with, sometimes even as a team. Get ready for that part!

Author: Daniela Miovska

My Quiet Spot

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Kids fighting all the time? Handling sibling rivalry
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