How often during the course of the week do you hear your kids yelling something like, “No fair!  That’s mine!  Leave me alone!  I’m telling!”?  Many of us may be raising our hands to admit, “That’s my life!”  We might be wondering why this is even happening.  The simplest answer is:  We have more than one child!

Here is another answer:  sibling rivalry is often spurred on by our children’s subconscious need for connection with us.  If they are feeling disconnected, they may settle for the attention they get from fighting with siblings.  Negative attention is better than no attention at all.

This is one reason parents need to be careful not to get pulled into the fray.  If we enter into their arguments and attempt to solve the conflict, we may risk creating more long term problems.  Children may begin to believe that we will always be there to rescue them from conflict, which may cause them to act out more.  We also run the risk of appearing to favor one child over another; if a child believes this, it can cause more resentment and continued rivalry.

So what should we do?  Well, unless the children are endangering or harming one another, avoid getting involved.  Do your best not to get caught up in their emotion, and gently encourage them to resolve the crisis themselves.  Calmly ask them to take their argument elsewhere, or stay away from each other until they have calmed down.  What a gift we give our children when we model calm behavior, and allow them to learn how to work things out on their own.

If we do find it necessary to get involved here are some guidelines:

  • Tell them, “I am happy to help you work through this situation once you have had some time away from each other, and have calmed down.”   Problem solving isn’t possible when our kids are drunk on their own emotions.
  • Avoid making decisions for them.   Work with them and help them find possible choices they can agree upon.  If children are fighting over the only game control, are there creative and satisfying ways they can take turns?  A schedule or a timer?   Is there another activity they can both do together?
  • Stay far away from the “blame game”.  Teach your children that this kind of thinking is unproductive; anyone who is involved is partly responsible.

 After children have solved their problems, or gone their separate ways, this is a great time for us to do some reflection on our own.  If one of the major underlying causes of sibling rivalry is because our children feel they aren’t getting enough of our attention, we may need to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions:   Is it possible that we aren’t giving our kids the undivided attention that their actions may be crying out for?  Have we been spending more time away from home?  Are we focusing more on other people, or our own daily needs?

 Children may grow even more resentful towards each other if they feel they aren’t getting enough attention from parents.  Giving separate attention is vital; yet it can be difficult to find the time to spend one-on-one with each child.  However, even just 10 to 15 minutes a day of undivided attention can go a long way in filling our children’s emotional needs.  Here are some simple ideas for meeting any these needs in our children:

  • When our kids do something delightful, TELL THEM!  Make the most out of these moments of delight.  Research shows that our children need to experience our delight in them; it is a key element to feeling secure.
  • Eliminate distractions.  When our children attempt to talk to us we need to make a point of putting away our iPad and cell phone.
  • Carve out special times.  If it is affordable you can take a child out to lunch, or to a movie; you can also make the most out of creating a bedtime ritual, picking up a child from school, making dinner or doing a project together.
  • Make the most of those golden moments.  When children confide in us, or share their feelings, just listen.  These are moments to build on by avoiding judgment, or rushing in to fix or lecture.  Just enjoy the uniqueness of your child.

 As we consistently model these ways of being in relationship, our children will grow up knowing they are valued and connected, and we teach our children skills that will help them throughout their lives.