No matter what age your children are, they are bound to experience sibling rivalry at some point in their lives.
Sibling rivalry occurs for several reasons. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics
(AAP), rivalries in families are a normal part of a child’s growth and development.Why does sibling rivalry occur?
- Competition for caregivers’ attention
- Differing personalities of siblings
- Mutual or differing interests
- Age differences
- Favoritism shown toward one child
Children’s National psychologist Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is going through a bout of sibling rivalry between her own daughters
at home. One of Mackey’s daughters is 9 months old, the other is 3 years old and the two are not getting along.
“To put it simply, my oldest daughter does not currently enjoy being a big sister. And our youngest is now 9 months old, which means she is everywhere and into everything, particularly our oldest daughter’s toys,” she said.
Mackey enlisted the advice of her colleagues to deal with her daughters’ sibling rivalry issues:
- This is normal and this too shall pass!
- Encourage and praise good behavior:
- We have had great success making a little prize bag (stickers, barrettes, crayons, etc.) and then a sticker chart where our oldest daughter earns stickers for being gentle, kind, or sharing with the youngest. Once she has earned five stickers, she gets to pick a prize.
- Make special time with the older sibling:
- Each parent should aim to have 10 minutes of “special time” with the older child on a daily basis or at least every other day. During this time, the child should be allowed to choose the activity (within reason) and the parent should be there to support, encourage, and do as little guiding as possible.
- Read books that recognize the older child’s experience, for example:
- Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
- Big Sister by Marianne Richmond
- Berenstain Bears and the Baby Sister by Stan and Jan Berenstain
The AAP says it’s important for parents not to choose sides during sibling conflicts and to encourage children to work out their own differences. The group also suggests that parents set guidelines on how children can disagree and resolve conflicts.
According to an article from the Student Affiliates in School Psychology
, a publication from the American Psychological Association, unresolved conflicts and/or severe hostility over time may harmfully impact children’s well-being and psychological health. These ongoing conflicts can then negatively affect a child’s relationships with peers and teachers.
Because these long-term rivalries and hostilities can have such a negative impact on a child’s life and those around them, it’s important for school psychologists, who are often the first line of defense, to recognize these dangers and not write off conflicts as “brother and sister stuff.”