4 Ways That Parents Fuel Sibling Rivalry and How to Prevent the Fire

While some days siblings are each other’s BFF’s, other days they are worst enemies;  

“He pushed me!” “I was here first,” “That’s mine!” “That’s not fair” and “I’m telling!”

Certainly conflict is common in every relationship. Siblings will annoy one another, bicker with and compete with one another. Competition and jealousy are just a part of what triggers sibling rivalry. Sometimes, parents unknowingly and inadvertently encourage it. 

4 Ways That Parents May Be Contributing To Sibling Rivalry:

  1. “EVEN-STEVEN” 

Often parents, with the best intentions create competition, rivalry and jealousy when they try to make things “even-steven.” I often see this when parents of younger children go to extremes to make things “equal”.

Does this sound familiar?

  • One of your kids is invited to a friend’s Birthday party. To make it “even” you take the other kid to Chuck E. Cheese for the evening.
  • Or do you count the number of skittles you spoon onto each plate, “4 for her, 4 for him?”

I actually met parents who let their 18 month old son flush the toilet each time his older brother used the potty and flushed the toilet. The younger son wanted to do everything his brother did. The parents were trying to make it even.

When parents strive to make things “even-steven” they may actually be fueling competition, jealousy and rivalry. Not to mention, it’s exhausting and it’s just not how life works. (that’s what I tell my kids!) 

In the short -term, creating all things equal or “even-steven” might prevent a toddler’s melt-down but in the long-run, parents are setting their kids up for low adaptability.

Practical Tips:

Counter the “even-steven” and teach your kids that in life, things will not always be even. 

  • Certainly, it’s okay to do something special with the one child when the other is out but avoid striving to make things even when one has something that the other does not. 
  • Try this language, “Sometimes he will have a party or sleepover and you won’t: sometimes you will and he won’t.” It may not be equal but it is fair.
  • Similarly, “When I pour pirates-booty out of the big bag onto your plates, sometimes more will fall onto his plate and sometimes more will fall onto your plate.” 
  • Remember, certain privileges come with age like staying up later or flushing the potty. It’s natural that older siblings will get to do things their younger sibs do not.
  •  Kids who are taught these lessons early learn how to handle competition later.

2. COMPARISONS & LABELS

Comparing children to their siblings may also fuel sibling rivalry.

“I only have to remind your sister once”

“Your brother has good manners, why don’t you?”

“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

When we compare our children to one another it may send a message that the child is inferior to their sibling and may actually create more competition and animosity. 

Practical Tips:

Comment on your child’s actions without the comparison. We compare our younger kids to their older siblings since that’s our only experience yet sometimes, the child’s action we comment on is irrelevant to the sibling.

Avoid over-praising one child in the presence of his siblings:

Be sensitive to the praise you give your child in front of the other. Yes, kids must learn how to deal with that, but does one child consistently receive more public praise than the other?

3. LABELS 

Avoid labeling your children. Labels lock kids into particular roles.

“This is my athlete” 

“She’s the smart one”

“He’s the organized one”

Be aware of how you describe your children to others.

Practical Tips:

Ideally, we want to embrace our children’s potentials not restrict them.

Let go of labels. Instead, comment on what is unique about each child.

“Suzy’s interest is soccer”

“Michael enjoys the arts” 

“Dylan makes everyone laugh”

4. AVOID FAVORITISM

Kids are sensitive to and aware of favoritism which undoubtedly creates rivalry and resentment. When we choose sides, punish one child and not the other, it encourages resentment, rivalry and jealousy. 

Practical Tips:

Avoid favoritism as well as the urge to constantly rescue your younger child from the older one. This pattern sets up resentment and a victim-bully mentality.

Encourage positive relationships:

  • Praise or comment when your children have fun together
  • Highlight acts of kindness 
  • Create opportunities for your children to positively connect together 
  • Teach your children to support one another

Help your kids realize they are not rivals but rather, they are on the same team. 

Amy Hertzberg
Author: Amy Hertzberg

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