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Solutions for Sibling Rivalry

By Rebecca Eanes


If you're like me, you dreamed that your children would be best friends from the start. It's both heartbreaking and frustrating when your children fight and squabble with each other, but there are things you can do (and not do) to help build their relationships with each other.

It can be easy to compare siblings. “Your brother was potty trained by now! Why are you being so difficult!” “Your sister doesn't have these problems at school!” Sometimes these statements just bypass our brains and fly right out of our mouths, but they only serve to fuel rivalry. Even seemingly positive statements can have a negative consequence. “You are so much better at this than your sister” may seem like a compliment to the child you're speaking to, but it still encourages a competition mindset. And of course favoring one child over another will always cause resentment. We inadvertently set them up for conflict with these unconscious habits.

If you want a peaceful home, then peace has to be made a priority. This means the children are absolutely not allowed to call names, be aggressive, or be rude to their siblings. When conflicts arise, I propose the peace circle. When 2 or more children argue, they should go to the peace circle (or table, rug, or couch), and here they are taught peaceful conflict resolution. You'll have to run through this several times with them, maybe even a lot of times if they are still very young, but eventually they'll learn to do it on their own, and peace will prevail. The first child is coached to start the conversation in the peace circle stating how she feels, why she feels that way, and what she would like her sibling to do. For example, “I'm feeling mad because you took my doll. I want you to give it back!” The second child is then coached to state his case in the same manner. Now you know what happened and what both children want, so you prompt them with “how are you going to solve this?” They may need ideas for solutions, and that's okay. They'll get the hang of it as they grow. If they can't reach a peaceful solution, then the parent makes the final decision. For example, you might say, “She had the doll and got mad because you took it. She wants it back, but you want the doll, too. How about you take turns? When she is finished playing with it, she will give it to you, and it will be yours for a while. When you are finished, you give it back. Does that work for you?” If it works for everyone, then peace is reached, and you just need to make sure they follow through on their agreement. If they refuse to reach an agreement, you might say, “I'll take the doll and put it away until a peaceful solution can be reached. Your relationship is more important than the doll.” Most often, they'd rather be in charge of the solution, so they'll work to reach one.


If children are too young for the peace circle (toddlers), then call for a time-in if one is being the aggressor, or a cool-off if both or more are equally involved. A time-in means you bring the child onto your lap or in close proximity to you and state your limit about not calling names (or whatever happened) and help her calm down and teach her what to do instead. A cool-off means they simply must separate from each other until they can be respectful toward one another.When everyone is ready, discuss the incident.

Spend quality time with each child. It is important to fill each child's emotional tank by connecting one on one. When each child feels wholly loved and connected to his or her parents, there is no need for rivalry. I know we are all busy, but 10-20 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your relationship.

All children should feel safe in their own homes, and allowing sibling rivalry to go unchecked doesn't allow that to happen. Set appropriate boundaries that respect each individual in the home and that create an atmosphere of acceptance and love, not rivalry and conflict. Conflicts will still sometimes arise, and that is perfectly normal, but by setting boundaries around respect and teaching conflict resolution skills, we can teach our children how to find solutions, repair relationships, and come back to peace.

Rebecca Eanes is the author of The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting and co-author of Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide for Putting Positive Parenting Principles into Action in Early Childhood. She is the founder of www.positive-parents.org and creator of the Facebook community Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. ??Through her Facebook community and website, Rebecca reaches thousands of parents daily with the message that connection trumps coercion and love is most powerful motivator. She does not claim to be a parenting "expert" but writes parent-to-parent with the hope of inspiring others to create peaceful homes through positive parenting.

She is the grateful mother of two boys.

Posted on Sep 19, 2014

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