Sibling Rivalry: What Should Parents Do

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It’s normal for brothers and sisters to quarrel every once in a while. Kuya might have borrowed Ate’s headphones and forgot to return it, causing Ate to be annoyed. Achi may have hurt Shobe’s feelings without intending to, causing Shobe to be distressed. Sometimes too, a fight could start from something as simple as an accidental nudge or a playful smirk. But what should parents do when fights escalate to sibling rivalry? “Rivalry occurs between most, if not all, siblings to a varying degree,” wrote Alexander K.D. Leung, MBBS, and Lane M. Robson, MD, in their study, Sibling Rivalry, which was published in Clinical Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed monthly journal for pediatricians.

Such rivalry may take any number of forms. Siblings may call each other names or slap, punch, or hit one another. Others turn to their parents, expressing frustration at their siblings and demanding immediate attention.

How kids get along, or not, depends on a number of factors. Kids who are close in age or who are of the same gender might see themselves as natural rivals. Middle kids, who feel that they don’t enjoy the same privileges as the eldest or the youngest, have the tendency to act out to gain attention.

However, Leung and Robson wrote: “When handled properly, healthy competition among siblings will lead to the acquisition of social, interpersonal and cognitive skills that are important to the development of the child.”

Indeed, going head to head with a sibling will help a child thrive in the spirit of competition, enjoy the benefits of cooperation, and encourage self-expression. For parents, the key is managing sibling rivalry properly. When parents let rivalries among their children ran awry, Leung and Robson said that it “may lead to psychological problems later in life.”

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Here are some ways for parents to manage sibling rivalry:

1. Never compare one child with another. This is an absolute no-no. Every child is unique. Every child has his own talents and abilities, and comparing one child with another will only cause hurt and resentment. If you must praise a child, focus on his achievement, and not how much better he is than his brother or sister. The idea is to look at each child, find out his needs, and work on those.

2. Don’t play favorites. This is a surefire way to wreak havoc on your children’s relationships with one another. The favored child will not only feel entitled, he will also likely be more reckless in his actions. He knows that he can get away with things because his parents will always take his side. Such a setup would surely build resentment among the children who are not favored.

3. Avoid situations that may lead to jealousy or resentment. If there’s only one gadget to be shared by three kids, for example, help your kids make a weekly schedule. Impose a penalty for those who will not follow the schedule. It would also be good to set acceptable rules of behavior. Let your children know that you will not tolerate name-calling, hitting, or punching among them. When you see them being kind to each other or working together as a team, encourage them with a praise, a compliment, or a tap on the back.

4. Make every child feel special. Build your relationship with each child by creating opportunities for bonding moments and finding common interests which you can pursue together. Moreover, encourage each child to develop his talents and strenghts so that he can develop pride and confidence on his own. Give value to individual successes, reminding him that he should only compete with himself and not with others.

5. Lay the groundwork for harmonious sibling relationships. Since children close in age are likely to lock heads, it would be best for parents to prepare the elder child for the arrival of his younger sibling. Talk to him about the growing baby in mommy’s womb. When the little bundle of joy arrives, enlist the elder child to help in taking care of the baby. Don’t shut him out. Spacing children appropriately is thus of primary importance.

6. Last but not least, Leung and Robson advise parents to have more patience, love, understanding, common sense, and humor when it comes to managing squabbles among siblings. Give each child the care and attention he needs. Hug him. Play with him. Encourage him to pursue his hobbies and interests. By showing him how to act with kindness, he would likely act with kindness in his heart, too.