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Sibling Rivalry

Drew and Jeremy had been at it all morning. First they argued over who got the most cereal at breakfast. Who owned the pair of jeans hanging on the chair. Who took the dog for a walk last (they each said it was the other ones turn). They fought for control of the video game and who had the most time on it. They picked at each other and complained that the other one started it. They argued, glared, and they used angry words. Mom repeatedly told them to stop it. She spent the morning refereeing battles again and again. “Stop that arguing, stop your fussing with each other”, she would say. Finally there was a time of silence, and quiet while she prepared supper. Then, in stormed Drew. “Jeremy’s calling me names. Make him stop.” Mom rushes down to the room and says, “Jeremy stop calling him names. You know we don’t call names in this family.” “Drew started it,” replied Jeremy. “He took my watch.” “No, I didn’t,” said Drew before Mom could speak. Back and forth they went until in frustration Mom threw up her hands in disgust saying “You boys”, before walking out of the room.

What’s a parent to do? First of all, Mom needs to realize that she cannot solve her boy’s problems. Problem solving should be kept on their shoulders and she needs to serve as a consultant, if necessary. Unless something or someone is being physically hurt, Mom should not intervene between her sons. The one exception would be if the turmoil and noise is affecting the parent, they can solve the problem by separating the boys or using time out with both of them to make the parent okay. Beyond that, when one child comes to the parent to “tattle” on the other, the parent should act as a coach or consultant to that child. For example:

Child: Jeremy’s calling me names.
Parent: What do you need to do to make things okay?
Child: I want to hit him and call him names back.
Parent: Well, that’s one thing you could do but what would happen if you did that.
Child: I’d feel good, but then we’d fight more and I’d get in trouble.
Parent: That’s right and I wouldn’t like that either. What else?
Child: I could not play with him anymore.
Parent: That’s good. I don’t think I’d be around someone who called me names.
Child: I think I’ll go outside awhile.
Parent: That sounds like a good idea to me.

In this way parents teach children to solve problems rather than be reactive. Parents need to stay out of unwinable discussions and teach children they are responsible to work out their own problems, yet available to consult and encourage their lives. Reduce conflicts by not adding to them. Help children grow in their ability to work out conflicts with others. Practice for future relationships begins as children working out conflicts with brothers and sisters.

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