Sibling rivalry and conflict between siblings is unavoidable to some degree. But there are skillful ways of dealing with it that minimize it and minimize the potential damage that can be caused.
Children by nature don’t seem to realize that there is enough parental love to go around. As they are in the process of developing a sense of “self”, they tend to have prominent egos. Thus they compare, compete, and often only see their own perspective. This can make them feel like an innocent victim in a conflict. They have a tendency to perceive injustice. Hence the term “childish”.
How often do you hear “It’s not fair!” There is a wonderful children’s book entitled “It’s Not Fair”, in which the older sibling complains of things such as being expected to be neat and clean up while the younger sibling is considered cute when she makes a mess eating, while the younger one feels it’s not fair that the older one gets to do all sorts of things like go to a friend’s for a sleep-over, school, etc. Reading this book to our children when they were young allowed them to mistrust their ungrounded feelings of injustice, and allowed us to have a laugh at the prevalent tendency.
Very often, a child will have a habit of running to a parent with a complaint of having been somehow hurt by a sibling. Too often, the parent automatically responds by getting angry at the child that was complained about. What I have seen many times is the unfortunate outcome of animosity between the siblings, which can sadly last for years. The sibling that kept getting into trouble resents the other sibling for causing it.
If one explores what happened further, often one finds that the hurtful behavior being reported, while not acceptable, was provoked somehow by the other sibling. Examples include continuing an annoying behavior despite repeated a better relationship between them, as well as teaching them important relationship skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.requests to stop results in being hit by the frustrated sibling. Repeated ignoring or teasing can also lead to a reactive response.
As a parent, just like a couple therapist, it is very important to not take sides. It is important to hear both sides if you are going to get involved, and to help your children see each other’s side, and empathize with each other’s feelings. This helps preserve their relationship, as well as teach them important relationship skills which will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Each child, with some guidance initially, needs to acknowledge his side, state how he imagines that made his sibling feel, and apologize. It’s nice for them to affirm their love for each other, perhaps with a hug. If they are too upset to be able to do this, they may need to separate for a while. Eachcan each go to their room to calm down and reflect on what their end is, and what their sibling might be feeling. Then when they are ready, they can reconcile. After they have had some practice, it is good to tell them that you have every confidence in their ability to resolve things on their own, and encourage them to not involve you unless necessary. Of course, every child needs to know that they can go to a parent to talk about anything. Many an argument at our house was resolved with the help of “rock, paper, scissors”!
There are many adults, unfortunately, who tend to be blameful and feel like an innocent victim, having difficulty seeing their own end of a conflict, empathizing with the other, and apologizing. These are crucial skills that are necessary for healthy relationships, which in turn affect one’s happiness. Helping your children develop them throughout their growing up will be one of the best things you can do to help them with their lives.