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Parents’ Battle Plan for Sibling Rivalry

While sibling relationships can bring lifelong joy, parents of more than one child often encounter challenges. And because relationships and families are unique, there are no hard and fast rules for dealing with discord among children. It’s generally helpful for parents to acknowledge that there will be times when siblings don’t get along. This is quite normal. There’s also likely to be continuing competition for limited resources, especially parents’ attention. This can be further complicated in blended families. On the upside, there are some universal strategies to make things easier.

Recognize and honor each child’s personality. 

Children’s unique personalities make them who they are and while endearing, individual personalities can clash, upsetting the harmony between siblings. Troubleshooting this tension requires parents to be mindful of their children’s differences and resist using a one-size-fits-all approach to correct behaviors. 

Model desired behavior. 

Parents are always the leaders for modeling how to communicate. If children see parents fighting with one another, for example, they may think this behavior is acceptable. If they see parents treating others respectfully, there’s a greater chance they will choose to solve disagreements in a similar manner.

Set boundaries. 

Parents should establish firm ground rules for the family when arguments or disagreements arise. Taking turns during the discussion, no name calling and agreeing to take a break if someone becomes angry are guidelines that can help promote civility.

Resist the urge to “solve” it. 

Children won’t learn how to settle disagreements independently without practice, and your home serves as a perfect training ground. Remember that it’s more valuable for children to learn how to resolve disagreements on their own than it is for them to always arrive at equitable solutions. If both children agree to the terms, intervening to make things fair thwarts their progress. (If you consistently see one child taking advantage of her sibling, consider pulling her aside for individual coaching.)

It is possible for parents to turn moments of sibling rivalry into something positive for the entire family. If challenges continue, consider talking with your pediatrician or family doctor for advice.

Mary Ian McAteer, MD

Author of this Article

Mary Ian McAteer, MD, specializes in pediatrics. She is a guest columnist located at Riley at IU Health Physicians Pediatrics - Meridian Crossing, 11590 N. Meridian St., Ste. 300, in Carmel. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.688.5220.

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