Sibling Rivalry

Hi Sharon,
HELP!!!!! Our two kids seem to be constantly fighting with each other. It’s pushing me past the point of no return. What tips do you have for how I can deal with this? It is unbearable to live with this constant conflict, and I’m at my wits end.

Dear “at my wits end” parents,

Thanks for the question that is on the minds of every parent with more than one child.

Sibling relationships, whether they have fighting in them or not, are usually some of the most intense and important relationships anyone has. No matter how it sometimes looks, your children adore and trust each other more than almost anyone else they know.

Having said that, sibling tension is extremely common. If parents are too busy, overwhelmed or unusually cranky, children can easily become on edge. If one sibling is in a bad mood about these issues or anything else, another sibling is sure to hear about it. Children usually aren’t able to calmly talk about things that bother them, they just get upset and pick a fight.

Here are some tips that might help.

1) Try to have regular time on the weekend or after school that you spend alone with each child doing something they choose to do. This gives you a chance to enjoy your child and to remember who they are separate from all the conflict. Times alone with Mom or Dad are precious to children. When children feel connected to their parents they are usually more confident and relaxed and sibling tension can decrease.

2) Make sure each sibling has an active social life apart from their brother or sister. Setting up play dates for individual siblings that help solidify friendships can help a great deal. If possible see if you can arrange for the sibling who is not part of the playdate to be occupied doing something engaging with you or someone else. Siblings have to share their parents, toys, space, and lots more; if they have to regularly share their closest friends this can turn into another source of problems.

3) If your living space permits, try to identify closets, toy chests, special places, etc. where each sibling can store the things that are important to them. As much as siblings enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they need to have some interests and spaces that are uniquely theirs.

4) Remember to enjoy and praise all of your children, even if their interests and personalities are very different. Comments like “your brother could read when he was your age”, can easily increase sibling rivalry. Help each child find activities that they enjoy and go out of your way to appreciate their unique successes.

5) Meet and talk to other parents with more than one child, it can be useful to find out that you are not alone with your frustrations. You could also pick up some helpful strategies. Workshops or groups on the topic can also be useful. I will be conducting a workshop for Parents of Siblings on Saturday April 17th from 10:30 – Noon in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Call the number listed below if you are interested in attending.
These are just a few ideas to answer a question that could easily have a much longer response. I hope they prove helpful. All my best wishes as you tackle the challenging but endlessly rewarding job of raising more than one child.