Sibling Rivalry – really such a bad thing? 7 Tips to Household Harmony

By Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist, Director PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre Bedfordview

A certain amount of rivalry and conflict between siblings is normal and even useful.  Sibling relationships provide a space to practice negotiation, co-operation and other important interpersonal skills that children need to be equipped with when they cross over to the big world.  Thus it is paramount we allow our children opportunities to work out their problems with their siblings without intruding or taking sides, if unless there is a warzone brewing.

7 Handy Tips:

  1. Hold yourself back: Communicate with your children that you have faith in their ability to solve their own problems. Yet, be very clear about the boundaries within which they can exercise this – that their solutions cannot include inflicting pain on each other and on personal possessions.  Then stay out of it, but monitor the situation from a bird’s eye view.  If the conflict turns to hurting each other, or the same child is always the “helpless victim”, step in and take charge.
  2. Self-reflect:  Set a good example as children absorb and learn from you as their primary source of knowledge about the world they live in. Be mindful of the kind of language you use when you get upset or the way you handle conflictual situations.
  3. Give your kids the tools:
    1. Empathise with your children: The best way to defuse a conflictual situation (such as anger) is to acknowledge it.  Help your child put his or her feelings into words. This will also increase their emotional intelligence.
    2.  Make a list of ways to handle negative feelings: Clarify boundaries clearly: for example, pinching, hitting, biting, name-calling, breaking things and other hurtful behaviours are not acceptable in your home. Then talk about what your children can do with difficult feelings, for example, Walk away, cool off, hit a pillow, do something physical like running in the garden, draw a picture or write about your feelings.
    3. Then make time to talk to the person who made you angry (after first cooling off).
  4. Give your Children Space:  Afford your child the right to be alone at times and do not force closeness when they are not ready.
  5. Be constructive
    1. Be mindful of how many negative comments you make to your children.  Place more focus on the times that they do something appropriate, for example, sharing their toys, or being kind.
    2. Use Encouragement daily – The more a child hears about their strengths and their abilities, the more they will come to believe in themselves and behave in a desirable manner.
    3. Do not compare your children as this places a barrier between your children and breeds animosity.
    4. Establish house-rules and address these problems when they arise with related consequences.
  6. Teach your Children the 4 steps to problem-solving:
    • Encourage your children to come up with solutions – they are more likely to co-operate when they solve their own problems and feel more empowered to handle life’s challenges.
    • State the problem clearly and do not bring up the past or get stuck in the content.
    • Brainstorm all kinds of potential solutions without excluding any ideas brought up.
    • Pick the best solution that is a win-win for all.
    • Try it, if it does not work, repeat the steps above.
  7. Start having family meetings.

Children are less likely to get frustrated when they know there is time set aside to discuss problems and come up with solutions as a family. To build self-esteem, get each family member to say something positive about the other.  End the meeting with doing something joyful – for example – cards, a board game or making pancakes together. This brings back the joy of being a part of a family.

Psychmatters Family Therapy Centre Bedforview

Clinical Psychologists on 011 -1450 3576

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