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4 Strategies to Manage Sibling Rivalry

For many families, the nature of sibling rivalries may have changed. No one fights over the remote control anymore because everyone is glued to their own devices. Smaller families and roomier cars also means fewer “He’s squishing me” cries from the back seat. However, some things remain the same. Arguments over household chores, jealousy about grades, and the age-old complaint of “You love her more” still abide. 

While sibling rivalry can be frustrating for parents, it is natural — and not all bad. Why? Because it can teach kids how to handle conflicts. It’s how they learn how to manage disagreements with friends, roommates, co-workers, and life partners down the road. But that doesn’t mean you should let it rage unchecked. Here are four ways you can help manage sibling rivalry so the innocent bickering at a young age does not fester into deeper scars. 

1. Schedule One-on-One Time 

Every week, make a deposit in each child’s account. We’re not talking about a college fund — rather, schedule one-on-one time with each kid. It could be something as simple as reading a book together for little ones or watching a show with a teenager. Or it could be a drive followed by ice cream or a dinner-and-movie date. Make an effort not to talk about your other kids during this special time. 

You can try this individual bonding experiment with grandparents and other trusted family members, too. One child can enjoy a weekend fishing with grandpa, while the other child gets mom and dad’s full attention for a bit. Send your weekender off with a kids watch so they can stay in touch with you while avoiding the temptations of screen time. Since these devices lack internet access, your young angler can better focus on spending quality time with Pop-Pop. 

2. Ditch the Comparison Game

It’s very easy to fall prey to comparing how Ayesha got straight A’s while Jamal is struggling with math. They may share DNA, but they can still have different strengths and weaknesses. Pitting one child against the other is not going to help. They will feel resentful and inadequate. Celebrate each child’s unique talents and discreetly help them in areas where they may be lagging behind. 

If other family members ask about the kids’ achievements, it is your job as a parent to advocate for all your children. You may get asked, “Her older brother was in the National Honor Society. Why isn’t she?” Instead of avoiding the question, share how proud you are of your daughter’s accomplishments. You can talk about her basketball prowess or her volunteer efforts at the food pantry.  

Siblings also often play the comparison game when it comes to belongings. You can decide whether it’s better for each child to get their own tablet or whether they should learn to share one. Learning how to share is important, but parents sometimes have to pick their battles to save their sanity.

3. Don’t Perpetuate Stereotypes

There are enough memes and jokes circulating about middle child syndrome and the supposed characteristics of the “baby of the family.” Make a conscious effort to not perpetuate — or play into — these stereotypes. When planning a family activity, solicit your middle child’s opinion first. Give your youngest child age-appropriate responsibilities just as you did with the older ones. This way, there won’t be even a whiff of favoritism. 

Parents may not mean to, but sometimes they do differentiate between sons and daughters, and that can breed rivalry. Why should the girls be asked to help with dinner and the boys do more “manly” tasks like mowing the lawn? They are both life skills that all kids should learn. If you have a girl after three boys, for instance, don’t raise her as a dainty princess who orders everyone around. Her brothers will not appreciate it, and she will bear the brunt of their resentment once she’s grown. 

4. Be Transparent About Decisions 

Instead of just commanding that Bella take out the trash and Jamie load the dishwasher, make the process transparent. Write down all the chores on popsicle sticks and put them in an empty jar. Have each child pick one or two sticks. They can either accept what they get or trade with one another. But at least they don’t feel that mom or dad has chosen “easier” tasks for one sibling over the other. 

If there is a disagreement about where to go for dinner, have everyone vote. Or you can write down who got to choose this week, so there is no bickering next time. When consequences need to be doled out for an infraction, be sure to apply them consistently. If the week’s grounding big sister received for breaking curfew gets reduced to one phone-free day for little brother, she’ll be sure to notice. Worse, she’ll probably complain bitterly — and not without cause.

When conflicts do arise, and they will, try to deescalate the situation. Let everyone cool down before you address the issue. If possible, have siblings figure out a solution among themselves. If that’s not feasible, always listen to all parties involved so you can decide on something fair for everyone. By making equity your guiding principle, you’ll help your kids avoid the worst excesses of sibling rivalry.

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