“What causes sibling rivalry?” “Having more than one child.”
This joke always gets a laugh in my parenting presentations but there is more than a hint of truth about it.
Sibling rivalry comes with the parenting territory. If you feel uncomfortable with rivalry between siblings then maybe it is best to stop at one child. After the birth of the second child you may think you are bringing a playmate home for the first born but in his or her eyes you have brought someone into your home who is a rival for your affection and attention. It seems that rivalry is most intense between children adjacent to each other in the family tree.
The current trend to have small, planned families in many ways promotes competition between siblings. Thirty-seven per cent of Australian families have only two children, while over a quarter of families contain three kids.
Rivalry can be intense when there are only two children in a family as it is hard to escape a single sibling.
And as most parents know having an odd number of children can present challenges as it seems one child is either continually left out or two tend to combine forces against one.
Some children are more prone to rivalry due to their competitive temperaments. Could you imagine being a parent of the Waugh twins as children! Life would have been one long Test Match as there would have been a competitive element to everything they did.
A certain amount of sibling rivalry is healthy for children. Trying to do better than a sibling is one way children extend themselves. The inevitable squabbles that accompany sibling rivalry teach children to stand up for themselves in the rough and tumble world of the schoolyard. But family-life can become intolerable for parents when sibling rivalry dominates every interaction between children or spills over into continual bickering, fighting and teasing.
While in many ways sibling rivalry is natural some parenting practices actually promote competition between kids.
Some classic rivalry raisers include:
Praise one child and criticize another. This rivalry raiser never fails to drive a wedge between siblings.
Compare one child to another. A comment such as “why don’t you keep your room tidy like your sister?” will ensure that there always be one untidy bedroom in a house.
Solve each and every dispute that children have between each other. It is almost impossible to enter children’s disputes without taking sides and then you will be accused of favoritism.
There are many strategies you can use to decrease rivalry between children. Here are three classic rivalry reducers:
Recognize their role in the family. Children will adopt different roles in the family – one may be the peacemaker, another the funny person and another the helper. While trying to encourage each child to make a positive contribution accept their own ways of being family members.
Focus on the deed not the dude. Don’t praise them but focus your comments on the process rather than the results, the act not the actor, the performer rather than the performance.
Put them in the same boat when they misbehave. Be willing for all children to experience the consequences of a child’s misbehavior. For instance, if one child is noisy in the car then they all miss an activity if you return home.
Don't be too perturbed if your children argue and fight with each other at the drop of a hat. Some of the closest adult families admit to habitually fighting when they were children. And some young siblings I know are affectionate to each other one minute and ready to fight tooth and nail the next. Let's face it, children are hard to fathom at the best of times and down-right impossible when they fight.