June/July 2009
Issue No. 14
Sibling Rivalry...
Back By Popular Demand

Hello and welcome to another Solutions in Parenting Newsletter. We have received many questions lately about sibling relationships. You want to know how to stop the fighting, bullying, conflict, and how to get those siblings to get along.

With summer in full swing, and increased sibling time together, we thought it might be a good idea to re-publish last year's information on the Five Essential Tips for Parenting Siblings.

These tips will help every parent of siblings deepen and improve their relationships with their children while helping children improve their relationships with each other. The skills are appropriate to use on any age level, from very young children to teens.


Five Tips for Parenting Siblings

There is no disputing the fact that when people, especially younger ones, live close to each other sharing space, resources and parents,there will be conflict. Couple that with the fact that siblings are still developing verbally, intellectually, and psychologically at varying paces, and that can spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Sibling conflicts can be some of the most challenging conflicts to address in a family because they can be so confusing and sometimes even frightening. Parents may not know when to intervene, what to say, who to discipline, or why the fighting is happening so much. As parents, we may be shocked by the hateful aggression our children can show toward each other only to be relieved to see them laughing and loving the next moment. The fights themselves can range from subtle pokes and prods to full-on brawls, all testing the patience and skill of any parent.

Sibling conflict or "rivalry" means the antagonism or hostility between brothers and/or sisters that shows itself in circumstances such as arguments, fights, whining, nagging, and various other forms of conflict. The root of sibling rivalry is not too hard to find. The problem is one of competition for limited or scarce resources. The limited resources in this case are usually parental time, attention, love and approval. In our busy lives, it is so easy to forget that our children (yes, even our teens) may feel there is simply not enough love to go around and they may attempt to get their needs for our attention met in some very disagreeable ways.

As parents, we can consider sibling conflicts as a curse or an opportunity to teach our kids essential life skills for conflict resolution. In order to do this, it is important for parents to understand the roots of sibling rivalry and to have a basic outline for how to handle the conflicts when they do arise.

Five Essential Tips to Resolve Sibling Conflict

1.  Sibling Inheritances: If you come from families of origin where you had one or more brothers or sisters, chances are your experiences as a child will be a big factor in how you deal with your children and their sibling conflicts. For example, if you were a firstborn child, you may put a lot of pressure on your children because your parents may have expected too much from you  (a very common, first-child family dynamic). Or perhaps as a last-born, you become extra-angry when your older children act bossy or critical with a sibling because it may remind you of how you were treated by your older siblings. Or maybe you were an only child and seeing your children in sibling conflict feels confounding and foreign because you did not have that kind of experience growing up. Taking the time to explore how you were raised and the issues you had with your siblings, can give you great insight into how you parent your children.

2. The Gift of Time: Each child, no matter what age, has a biological need for a deep connection to his or her parents or primary caregivers. Children, especially very young children, are still forming bonds with those around them. It is not enough to assume that kids know we love them. We must show them just how much by giving each child the time to feel our undivided love and attention without the direct presence of a sibling. Give them your time, and your children will be able to feel less competitive with their other siblings for your time.

3. Model Behavior: A huge portion, up to 95%, of what children learn in the home comes from how they see the adults around them behaving. This means you can lecture, teach, talk and preach about how children should act, but if that is not reflected in your behavior, chances are they will not learn it. Parents and adults need to show children how to be in a relationship with others that are compassionate and respectful, even in times of conflict. These are the behaviors your children will ultimately learn from you.

4. Conflict Resolution: Instruct your children how to use appropriate conflict resolution skills when they are fighting with each other. This means teaching your children how to speak about what they are feeling, how to take turns listening to each other, and how to make their own decisions about reaching solutions that meet every one's needs. They will learn essential life-skills and you will benefit from children who know how to fight "well".

5. Fair But Not Always Equal: There is a big and important difference between "equal" and "fair". It is impossible for parents to treat each child equally all of the time because each child's needs are unique, just as each child is unique. Trying to keep all things equal will wear down even the most determined parents. It also contributes to an environment of competition, jealousy, comparisons, and yes, rivalry between siblings. Making sure that all children know they will get what they need, when they need it is a much more realistic goal than making sure they all get the same things at the same time.

Again, it is rare when a parent can employ all of these steps all of the time. If these concepts are new to you, try just one this week. If you already know these steps, try to deepen your skills at each level.

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Monthly Parenting Challenge

What is your first reaction to your kid's fights? Do you immediately intervene, solving the issue for them? Do you ignore it, hoping it will go away? Do you feel scared? Helpless? Angry?

This month, try to be aware of how and why your react to your kids when they argue. This awareness may help you begin to identify areas where you may need to intervene differently, help more, or stay out of their way so they can work it out on their own terms.

Use the tips to the left to guide you through any situations that may arise.

Let us know how it goes, we are always curious.

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Meet Kristi Miller

Kristi Miller, MA, CAPI, and Solutions in Parenting Founder, is a Certified Aware Parenting Instructor and Parenting Consultant who offers a distinctive form of parent education coupled with hands-on training for parents and their families. For more than a decade, Kristi has been dedicated to a specialized form of parent education she developed which honors and encourages parents and helps them define and maintain their own personal styles. This, in turn, allows children to thrive in a loving and collaborative environment.
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