As a parent of two, I sometimes worry that my children will encounter/experience sibling rivalry. My
children have fairly opposite personalities; while one is fairly shy and contemplative, the other is
boisterous and affectionate. But they both experience jealousy and have a temper to match that of a wild animals.
I do sometimes see one physically or emotionally hurt the other. And I know there is no stopping these
experiences; as a child, I endured it myself, and have relayed stories to those who have shared their sibling rivalry anecdotes with me. They tend to be the most hilarious stories to share. My children are young and have constant supervision in which intervention is continual, so fighting is fleeting, and effects are not permanent, but rather educational. I find it’s easy to teach them to be gentle and have empathy when they are so young, so I use these moments as a tool to prevent future fighting that could have bigger impacts. After all, it’s going to happen either way, so I use them to my Mommy advantage.
Why Children Fight:
· To get attention from their parents (“surely making my brother cry will get my mom to stop
cooking that horrible supper and pick me up”)
· To feel powerful (“I rarely have any say in what I eat or when I sleep but I can impose my
superiority over something that barely moves more than a potted plant”)
· Boredom (“annoying my brother while he is trying to watch his favourite show is so much more
fun than playing with the same old toys again”)
· To release energy (“why run when I can jump on someone who isn’t expecting it, from a great
height of course”)
What Children Learn from Fighting:
· They learn to manage, cope, and survive power struggles (“he won this round… but I’ll be back”)
· They learn to resolve conflicts by being open, communicative, sharing, and taking responsibility
for one’s actions (“I’m responsible for breaking the toy and he is responsible for my black eye”)
· They learn to be assertive and to stand up for themselves (“excuse me, I believe that’s my Barbie
Playdoh play set you are stealing”)
· They learn to negotiate and compromise (“okay, you take the heat for smearing diaper cream all
over the room and I’ll give you half of my dessert”)
Through general parenting (or lack of parenting skills I should say), I’ve learning fighting can be influenced by physical factors such as hunger, illness, and fatigue. Addressing these needs often has a happy outcome, especially for the child experiencing the wrath of their grouchy sibling. My younger child, my Polar Bear, is a feisty little guy and will assert dominance over toys, often tackling his older brother while he isn’t looking to obtain them. However, my more docile child, my Grizzly Bear, can become very troublesome when tired. He often becomes giddy and flat out ignores rules, particularly the rule about jumping off of furniture.
This usually ends with Polar Bear getting squashed as his brother finds new ways
to entertain himself. Children grow through phases where fighting has different effects on them as they view the world differently through each stage.
· These little tykes live in a dog-eat-dog world in which there is lots of fighting and parents must
Young School-aged Children
· These impressionable minds adhere to a new rule, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and
parents intervene less and less
Older School-aged Children
· This law and order stage is a society where the children themselves use rules to guide actions and
determine fairness and parents, well, relax
High School and Beyond
· Yes, they have a human conscience now and resolve conflicts with techniques learned in earlier
phases (they still make poor decisions regarding safety and finances)
As my children are still both preschoolers, living in their dog-eat-dog world, it’s in my and my husband’s
nature to be in constant supervision mode. However, it’s important for us to remember that these first
five years are the foundation in which they will build the rest of their lives. I can’t stop, only teach.
Some Helpful Tips
· Encourage communication and understanding of feelings; help your children develop a sense of
empathy and respect for their siblings’ feelings
· Teach them how to resolve problems and let them know you believe they can be creative about
· Treat your children as the unique individuals that they are; if they are energetic and boisterous,
teach them to ask for high-fives rather than become physical; if they are sensitive and
communicative, teach them to strike conversations and make deals rather than scream
· Stay out of arguments that are harmless bickering, but don’t walk away; supervise the solutions
that they develop so that you can praise and encourage them And try to enjoy the young years full of bickering children, after all, these are the foundational years.
Remember how they learned these skills because they will be using them for the rest of their lives!