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Is Sibling Rivalry Inevitable? 6 Ways to Calm the Chaos

Posted by Urban Infant Team on
Is Sibling Rivalry Inevitable? 6 Ways to Calm the Chaos

Ah, siblings. They seem to be either best friends or worst enemies, depending on the day. While social media is filled with beautifully posed photos of angelic toddlers gently holding their tiny new siblings, parents of multiple children know that’s just the highlight reel. 

Some fighting between siblings is to be expected. In fact, squabbles over toys and escalated arguments over whose turn it is are pretty standard and often developmentally appropriate. However, full-blown sibling rivalry that rears its head at every turn can be exhausting and detrimental to the entire family. 

Why Siblings Fight

Siblings may fight over any number of reasons. Older siblings may feel that the newest addition to the family is stealing the attention they’ve become accustomed to receiving. Younger siblings might become frustrated that their faster, larger sibling seems to always be able to get their way. 

Depending on the age gaps and family dynamics, there could also be any number of other reasons siblings fight. As parents, it is important to remember that your little ones are still learning how to navigate conflict in an appropriate way. They need your help to gain these skills, just as they need your help learning to use the potty or zip up a jacket. 


Calming the Chaos 

While you can’t avoid sibling fights altogether, you can set yourselves (and your kids) up for success by establishing an environment that encourages teamwork and cooperation.

1. Keep Kids Out of Boxes 
It’s incredibly easy to resort to labeling our kids as their personalities begin to emerge. “Johnny is the artist and Janie is the athlete” might seem like an innocent statement, but for kids it can feel like being put into a box. Now Johnny feels frustrated that his efforts in soccer aren’t being noticed, and Janie is jealous of the praise her brother is getting for his art. 

Instead of labels, try using descriptive statements about your children that don’t limit them or unintentionally pit them against each other. “Johnny really enjoys art, and Janie has been working hard at sports” allows each child to be proud of their accomplishments without feeling boxed in.

2. Allow the Feelings
Whether or not you saw exactly what happened, it’s important to allow each child the chance to have their feelings heard and understood. Asking questions such as, “How did you feel when your brother took your toy?” can help little ones learn to express their feelings with words. 

This is also an opportunity to teach your child that while all feelings are allowed, not all actions are appropriate. It’s okay to validate feelings while setting boundaries around behavior. One example might be, “Wow, you were really mad when your brother took that toy! It’s okay to be mad, but I can’t let you hit your brother.”

3. Make Memories Together  
One way to encourage cooperation is to make time for fun! Having good memories together is a way to establish positive feelings for one another. For you kids, that means making sure they have lots of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. 

It’s also important that each child has the chance to build positive memories individually with you, without the need to compete with their sibling for attention. If you’re short on time (because, you know… kids) check out these tips for spending intentional one-on-one time in a multiple-kids household. 

4. Avoid “Manager Mom” Mode
One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice about how to put an end to sibling rivalry is to just… not do anything. Now, of course we don’t mean that you should let your children physically hurt each other. And you’ll know when a conflict has gone too far and needs a referee to get involved. But sometimes, parents can go straight to manager mode at the first sound of tiny raised voices.  

If your children are safe, it’s okay to simply walk away from a fight and let them manage the conflict on their own. You might even be surprised at some of the creative solutions they come up with when left to figure it out themselves. 

5. Be the Example 
Anyone with toddlers knows that their brains are geared to observe the world around them. Just think of the last time you tried to open a snack for yourself without them noticing! They’re watching and learning from the adults in their lives all the time. 

By setting good examples in conflict, expressing your feelings verbally, and modeling creative problem solving, you’ll be setting them up for success with their siblings as well as others they will meet throughout their lives.  

6. Keep Shame Out of It 
If one child is clearly in the wrong, it can be hard not to give them a lecture about it right there in the moment. However, when a child is being told that what they did was wrong in front of a sibling who they’ve just been fighting with, it can lead to feelings of shame and isolation, further provoking the rivalry. 
Instead, calmly curb any harmful behavior such as hitting first. Then, if you need to have a conversation with just one child about their behavior, do it privately. This can help keep everyone on a level playing field when it comes to future conflicts. 


Siblings Won’t Fight Forever 

While some siblings seem to struggle with rivalry more than others, it likely won’t last forever. When children are supported, listened to, and given the opportunity to work together, they will learn to get along and care for each other. 

Will it happen overnight? Probably not. Will your children probably still come running to you yelling, “Moooooom! He did it again!” when they’re teenagers? Most likely. But with time and patience and a little bit of direction, most siblings can learn to overcome rivalry.

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