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Sibling Rivalry

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I wish my children got along better, but I can stand it. It's just a normal part of human nature to be competitive."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "I competed with my sister, just as my daughter fights with her brother. I understand that sometimes it's hard to love a brother or sister every minute of the day. I really can relate."

Teach. Tell yourself, "I can help my child learn how to get along with her siblings and appreciate their unique accomplishments, without comparing herself or being in competition with them."

Use Empathy When your child ignores his sibling. Ask how he would feel if his sister ignored him and didn't talk to him when he asked her to play a game. Say, "It's important to treat another person like we want to be treated-with respect and kindness."

Encourage Saying Something Nice. Encourage your child to say something nice about his sibling when she accomplishes a goal, such as wins a game or gets a good grade at school, to encourage each child's learning how to express joy in someone else's accomplishments.

Make Getting-along Goal. Set goals for getting along that are tied to privileges for each child. For example, "As long as you both can get along, you will be able to play with your electronic devices later."

Set the Timer. When they are fighting with each other over who gets your help, for example, say, "I'm going to set the timer on my phone for 10 minutes. When it rings, then we'll switch places, and I'll help your brother (sister)."

Praise Getting Along. When they are getting along, point it out by giving that behavior your attention. Say, "I love that you're playing nicely and getting along by taking turns with the blocks" and "I like hearing you using nice words, like saying 'thank you' when your sister gave you the big block for the top of the tower."

Offer Choices. Say, "You can get along and play nicely together or be separated until you can be kind to each other. You choose." Or you could say, "You may either get along with each other and continue to play or not get along and lose time with your screens." Let your children get in the habit of making choices to give them a feeling of control over their lives and to help them learn to make good decisions on their own.

Use Calm Time. When sibling battles seem to have no end, simply say, "I'm sorry you've chosen not to get along and need to calm down, I'm taking each of you to Calm Time so you can think of ways to cooperate with each other and get along. When you're calm for a few minutes, we will discuss what you're going to do to cooperate and get along."

Avoid the Blame Game. Rather than trying to get to the bottom of what happened when something breaks, for example, simply say, "I'm sorry you weren't getting along and this was broken. Because you were both here, I will assume you are equally responsible. Now together, let's fix what's broken."

Keep A Record of Turns on the Family Calendar. To avoid fights over who's turn it is to do something, keep track on the family calendar. Someone saying, "It's not my turn to clear the dinner table," can be quickly verified as right or wrong by checking the calendar.

What not to do:

Don't Set Up One Child to be an Example. When you say to a child, "Why can't you be as helpful as your sister?" you create a competition between siblings that will soon break out in hostilities. Therefore, avoid making negative comparisons.

Don't "Rescue" When Children Don't Get Along with Each Other. Sibling rivals will often get into fights over toys, privileges, portions, parent attention, and many other things. If you always intervene to settle disputes, you will be forever cast in that role. Adult siblings have been known to call mom to tattle on a sibling and want her to intervene as a way of "winning" approval by their parents. Stop this game of one-upmanship by saying, "I'm sorry you aren't getting along. You work it out. I know you can find a peaceful solution." Then monitor to see that no violence is used to settle the dispute.

Don't Get Upset When Your Children Don't Love Each Other All the Time. Children cannot live in the same home without engaging in some rivalry. It's human nature. Keep friction to a minimum by paying attention to getting along and by not allowing the rivalry to escalate to physical fights.

Don't Hold Grudges. After the dispute has been settled, don't remind your children that they used to be enemies. Start over with a clean slate and help them do the same.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.