What To Do About Sibling Rivalry and Fights

Sibling rivalry may be inevitable, but there are still ways to get our kids to show a little respect for one another.

When it comes to relationships between siblings, most of us hope that our children have more good times together than bad. Still, expecting that brothers and sisters will never fight is probably unrealistic, according to Dr. Penelope Leach, renowned child psychologist and author. She says sibling rivalry is simply a fact of family life. “I think fights between siblings are inevitable. And there are phases when siblings actually enjoy fighting. Sometimes parents worry too much and intervene too quickly.”

Many experts feel that refereeing every fight can add to the rifts and take away the opportunity for children to negotiate their own solutions. “Still,” says Leach, “if a child is being hurt physically or emotionally, then a parent must intervene and insist on decent behavior.”

Leach adds that parents “shouldn’t be too eager to assure each sibling that they love each other, because if people aren’t feeling loving that doesn’t help. But parents can help siblings be civil to each other by insisting from the beginning that feelings are your own, but behavior is public. You do not have the right to behave badly to your sibling. You don’t have to be best friends, you don’t have to share everything, but you must behave decently in the family.”

Psychologist and family therapist, Dr. Michael Elterman agrees that with siblings who are around the same age, a few ground rules around fighting are all that’s usually required. “Where you’re dealing with children that are of a similar age and intellectual level, the rules should be that arguing verbally is okay and parents need not get involved. But the rules are that if there is any violence at all such as hitting or harming the other person’s property or invasion of their personal space, parents become involved.”

However, Elterman adds that parents need to more carefully monitor fighting when there’s a significant age difference between the children. “Sibling rivalry between a 3 and 12 year old is something that parents will need to watch very carefully because the potential for manipulation and cheating the younger child out of things, and physical violence is much greater.”

Finally, on the upside, Elterman adds that rivalry does have its pluses because it teaches children about negotiation. “What I think we want to teach children is that they learn problem solving skills and to generate alternatives to fighting.”


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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