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Sibling rivalry: Tips on how to help your kids get along

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Do your kids love to hate each other? Kate Farr looks to Marie Marchand, the owner of DB-based Parenting Dialogue, for some tips on changing things up.

Jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers and sisters can start right after the birth of a second child, and it can continue throughout childhood. Parents dealing with sibling rivalry will find it slightly soothing to learn that it is a concern for almost everyone with two or more kids. But only slightly soothing. This statistic doesn’t actually ease the burden, or provide you with the tools to put an end to the seemingly constant squabbling.

If you feel like you’re rearing sparring partners, rather than lifelong allies, how do you change things up?

Provide one-on-one time

Opening the discussion, Marie Marchand, the principal of City Kids preschool and the owner of DB-based Parenting Dialogue, explains there are a number of factors that may contribute to tension within the sibling relationship. “Birth order, age gap, gender and a child’s individual characteristics can all play a part. For example, a particularly sensitive child may clash with a more assertive brother or sister,” Marie says.

“Parenting style is also a major factor,” adds Marie. “If a parent is seen to favour a sibling, giving him encouragement while tending to direct blame at another, this can create a sense of disconnect within the family, causing a child to misbehave in order to gain the parent’s attention.”

But how can busy parents best channel this desire for attention into positive behaviours? Marie suggests starting with one- to-one attention. “Take some time to connect with each child individually,” she says. “This should ideally happen daily, and can be something as simple as playing a quick game together, reading a book or taking a short walk.”

The aim is to help reinforce the bond between parent and child, enabling children to feel secure in their relationship, which translates into calmer behaviour.

Celebrate individuality

“It’s also important to recognise that all children are different,” says Marie. “Recognise their uniqueness but avoid drawing comparisons or labelling. For example, you could say, ‘Ýou are really good at reading,’ rather than, ‘You are the smart one in the family.’ This acknowledges one child’s distinctive talents without any negative associations implied towards the other children.”

When it comes to elder siblings’ behaviour, Marie believes that we can often have overly high expectations. “Don’t expect perfection from older children, and try not to force them to alwaysbe the ‘big boy or girl,’” she says. “They may not wish to play with their little brother, or give their little sister a cuddle, and we should respect that.”

This also applies to children’s negative feelings. “Acknowledging children’s feelings helps them process things. Saying, ‘I can see that you would like some quiet time away from your brother,’ or ‘You seem disappointed that your sister has a play date today,’ helps children to realise that their feelings are valid, and that it’s OK to vocalise them.”

Let them battle it out

Of course, occasional tensions and conflicts are bound to arise within any close relationship. Does Marie believe that we should shield our children from this? “First and foremost, our responsibility is to ensure our children are safe,” she says. “Beyond that, we should ideally teach them how to deal with conflict from a young age, reinforcing this throughout childhood.”

Marie suggests that, wherever possible, parents use positive feedback, rather than negative reinforcement to get their message across. The focus should be on strengthening children’s negotiation and listening skills, as well as stressing the importance of compromise.

“Once children are confident in their own ability to handle conflict, parents can take a step back and allow them to experience the satisfaction that comes with working out differences positively,” Marie says.

When it comes to specific methods for handling conflicts, communication is key. “Allow children to express their feelings and encourage them to ask for help without blaming others,” Marie says. “For example: ‘My  sister took my favourite book and it made me feel sad. Could you help me find another book please, Mum?’”

Be there to mediate

Marie suggests reinforcing this with some hard and fast ‘get- along rules,’ such as using kind words, being gentle and sharing, while also respecting each other’s belongings. “This gives you a great opportunity to encourage positive behaviour when you see it, such as when your child shares his toy, or comforts his sibling,” she says.

Marie also recommends taking on the role of a mediator to avoid the ‘he-said-she-said’ arguments that can arise when unpicking everyday squabbles. “Don’t take sides,” she says. “Try to facilitate a mutually agreed solution to an issue by brainstorming possibilities. This can be as simple as sharing a toy by playing together, or even setting a timer to ensure both children get an equal turn.”

Be creative and, after a while, you may find that your children no longer need your mediation quite so often. Which is surely the most reassuring and hopeful message of all for any parent of siblings.

Top tips for tackling sibling rivalry
• Don’t compare your children
• Acknowledge children’s feelings – both positive and negative
• Stay neutral and aim to mediate
• Give your children the tools to resolve conflict for themselves


• Parenting Dialogue, www.parentingdialogue.com

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