15 Jul The Kids are all Fight
Sibling rivalry is nothing new – look at the family feuds between Cain and Abel, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, even Bart and Lisa. But it can break a parent’s heart to see their kids being awful to each other.
Most psychologists agree some form of sibling rivalry will occur at some stage in every home that has more than one child. The trick is how parents handle it.
A lot of psychoanalytical weight has been placed on the role sibling rivalry plays in a child’s development. Freud claimed issues between siblings were an extension of the Oedipal complex, in which kids naturally competed for the attention of their parents.
But it doesn’t have to be as deep and dark as all that, says psychologist Larne Wellington, of Positive Families in Brisbane. She describes sibling rivalry as a “normal and healthy part of life”.
“Squabbles and teasing give children the opportunity to learn how to resolve conflicts with others,” she says. “Our family is a place where we learn cooperation, self-control, respect and how to handle anger and jealousy. Children need to learn that it’s quite okay to have [these] feelings. They also need to learn how to share and accept their individual strengths and weaknesses. They are then more likely to experience happier and healthier relationships in later years.”
How parents help
Larne has this advice:
- Teach problem-solving skills. Children need to learn alternatives to fighting, such as walking away, compromising or taking turns.
- Ignore dobbing. Remind children that they are equally responsible for the conflict.
- Set boundaries. Draw up rules such as no hurting, pushing, kicking or throwing things at each other, so children know which behaviour is unacceptable.
- Use positive reinforcement. When you see your children getting along, tell them how wonderful it is to see them enjoying each other’s company.
- Allow siblings to resolve conflicts themselves. Don’t get pulled into the role of referee. You may need to give them ideas about how to compromise, but it’s important to motivate them to find solutions themselves.
- Have one-on-one time. Children who feel emotionally connected to their parents are less likely to fight. Spend time alone with each child to reduce rivalry.
- Apologies are important. Encourage them to come together and talk about how an action may have hurt their feelings. Explain why apologising and forgiveness are important.
How parents hinder
It’s impossible to treat each child exactly the same, but it’s important to be fair. “A parent who attempts to figure out who is the aggressor often makes things worse,” Wellington says.
She says parents shouldn’t step in every time they hear an argument. She stresses that parents shouldn’t compare their kids. “Making them feel like they’re in competition, or must fight for your attention, is likely to intensify rivalry,” she says.
When it’s gone too far
The sibling relationship is probably the longest one most people will experience.
Wellington advises parents seek support if it seems that from a young age their children show excessive rivalry.
“When rivalry spills over into physical fighting or constant arguing, it can impact negatively on family life. Then parents need to take action,” she says.
In love and war
“Squabbles and teasing give children the opportunity to learn how to resolve conflicts with others. Our family is a place where we learn cooperation, self-control, respect and how to handle anger and jealousy.”