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Sibling rivalry: The good, the bad and how to deal

If you have more than one child, odds are that you are already dealing with sibling rivalry to some extent. Sibling rivalry can begin before the second child is even born, and it often continues throughout life.

Siblings back to back

Toddlers compete for toys and belongings. Older children may compete in sports and school, or bicker over everything from TV shows to household chores. And of course, kids of all ages compete for their parents’ attention. Though some healthy competition among brothers and sisters can be good, sibling rivalry can quickly get out of hand and create a chaotic, stressful home environment.

The good

Sibling rivalry isn’t all bad. As children learn to cope with disputes and differences, they learn life skills such as how to compromise, how to negotiate, how to value another’s perspective and how to argue calmly rather than aggressively. Therefore, some degree of rivalry and competition can be healthy among brothers and sisters.

Read more about how to teach your kids to get along >>

The bad

As we all know, sibling rivalry isn’t always positive. No one wants a household that is in chaos with daily squabbles, constant bickering and long-term grudges. For parents, sibling rivalry can be frustrating. It’s often difficult to ascertain whether you should get involved at all, or let your children work out their differences. If you understand the reasons behind the rivalry and fighting, you can provide the tools to help your kids settle their issues and restore some order to your family.

Reasons for sibling rivalry and conflict

Almost all siblings experience some degree of envy or jealousy, and those feelings can ignite into unhealthy competition, arguments, squabbles and, in some cases, physical fighting. However, sometimes it’s not just natural jealousy that causes issues. Consider these other factors:

Developmental needs

Kids needs change as they go through different developmental stages. Toddlers and preschoolers naturally exert their voice and their will to protect their belongings. Elementary-age children are developing a sense of what is fair. Therefore, they might not understand why a younger or older child is treated differently — with more attention from parents, more freedoms or more responsibilities. Teens are exploring their independence and developing their individuality, which may result in sibling rivalry with other children, conflict with parents and other ways of acting out.

Temperaments and personalities

Each child possesses their own unique temperament and personality. While one child may be clingy or easily upset and need more attention from their parents, other children may perceive it as favoritism and cause resentment from other siblings. On the other hand, another child may be high strung, have a quick temper, or have difficulty adapting to change. The mood, temperament and disposition of your kids may lead to conflict and rivalry.

Read more about favoritism and sibling rivalry >>

Role models

How you solve your own problems may be setting a bad role model for your kids. Children who see parents arguing and yelling (or worse yet, see physical conflict) are more apt to adopt those same methods for solving their own disagreements or issues. Before dealing with your kids’ fights, think about how you handle disagreements yourself. By changing bad habits such as slamming doors, shouting and cursing, you can help change your children’s habits as well.

Up next: How to deal with sibling rivalry >>

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