Sibling Rivalry: How To Help Siblings Get Along

How much do you dread sibling rivalry between your kids? It can be a real headache for parents when siblings see each other as rivals rather than as friends. Parents can make this worse if they don’t pay attention to each child’s needs. But there are also things you can do to reduce sibling rivalry and help them get along.

Now, all of this is just my own opinion. I’m not a doctor or anything like that. But these ideas work for us, and I hope they work for others.

Some sibling rivalry is natural. It’s pretty much a law of parenting. Kids can be greedy jerks, especially to their brothers and sisters. They’re much more aware of their own needs than the needs of others, especially when they’re young.

But sibling rivalry gets worse when kids feel that they’re being treated unfairly. When one child gets more attention, the other kids notice. Even if there’s a good reason to give one child more attention, the differences can create sibling rivalry.

I’m lucky. My kids have a nice, low level of sibling rivalry. Sure, they call each other names, but it’s mostly friendly. There’s a bit of “to drive each other up the wall” in there too, but it’s not at an unhealthy level.

Ok, maybe it isn’t all luck. As with many parts of raising a family, it’s a combination of parenting and the personalities my kids are born with. I firmly believe these things are a combination of nature and nurture, not one or the other.

Still, there are some things you can do to minimize sibling rivalry with your kids. Much of it comes down to knowing how to treat your kids fairly but differently.

Treat Them As Individuals

I’m sure you’ve noticed how different each of your kids are. I know my kids are similar in some ways but very different in others. Some differences are due to age differences but others are pure personality.

My son is the organized one, my youngest daughter the least organized, even with age taken into consideration. It has been challenging at times to deal with the differences

Let each child know you see them as an individual. Their learning styles and needs can be very different. Pay attention to those differences.

This won’t always be easy. In fact, it can be downright frustrating.

Let’s say your first kid is one of those kids who eats everything. Not a picky eater at all. You feel like a great parent. They even eat their vegetables and ask for more.

The next kid is a picky eater, and I mean picky! Ketchup is too spicy. If it’s not chicken, it’s not edible. And don’t even think about vegetables.

Times like this are when you find out that some things are out of your control as a parent. You can work with the picky eater, but if you’re always comparing them to the older sibling, they’re going to resent it.

You’re far better off figuring out what it will take to help your picky eater learn to eat a wider range of foods. This takes time and a lot of patience.

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Treating your kids as individuals doesn’t mean you have to make separate meals to cope with different tastes, of course. It can mean finding a balance that works for both or coming up with rules that help both kids do well at mealtimes.

This happens with more than just food, of course. How well a kid gets up in the morning, how they do in school, and their attitudes, in general, all depend on the child as an individual. You’ll find that you can expect different things with each child. Treat them that way.

Equal Treatment Isn’t Always Fair

Do not treat your kids equally just because you think you have to. Help them see why things aren’t equal. Talk it out.

For example, older kids get a later bedtime because they don’t need as much sleep. Younger kids may envy the later bedtime but will be too tired if they don’t get their sleep. When younger kids get jealous of a difference in bedtimes, explain why they can’t stay up so late.

Explaining that many differences in treatment will disappear as kids get older can help. Younger siblings can be jealous of all the things older siblings can do, while older siblings can envy the few responsibilities of the younger.

When differences are age related, you can explain how these things relate to age. A younger child is not capable of many things the older does with ease. Treating them exactly the same all of the time wouldn’t be fair.

Respect Your Kids’ Feelings

Kids are just like adults. They get angry more easily when they’re tired. They get frustrated when things don’t go right. And they hate it when people don’t respect their feelings.

It happens a lot.

Think about it. Have you ever scolded your kids for expressing their feelings? Most parents have.

A part of that is teaching kids to control their feelings better. If we all expressed ourselves as loudly as toddlers, the world would be a much noisier place.

But you can teach your kids to control their feelings while still respecting those feelings. Don’t dismiss their feelings out of hand – they are real.

There will be times that it’s hard to control your own feelings when your kids are loudly expressing theirs. Parenthood is exhausting, especially if you’re running low on sleep. There will be times when you yell because you’re tired. Do your best to set the example, and admit your mistakes when they happen.

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Be Consistent

Consistency is a big part of making your kids feel that they are being fairly treated. They like to know that the rules are the same for everyone, as well as why there are exceptions.

No parent can be 100% consistent – situations will make you change the rules sometimes. Sometimes this is due to the personalities of your kids – one may be more responsible and therefore get privileges the less responsible one can’t have yet.

But even these differences you can use to your advantage as a parent. When you can’t be consistent, explain why.

Give Individual Attention

Find time to do things individually with each child. This does not have to cost money. A trip to the playground is often enough when the kids are little. A hike or even a walk around the block can work well with older kids.

Giving each of your kids individual attention gives them a chance to talk to you about the things that are important to them. Sometimes it will be things their siblings know already; other times they only want to talk to you about it.

If you realize a big conversation is starting, just go with it if at all possible. My oldest and I almost spent the night chatting in the garage one evening because we just got talking. Our garage is a comfortable place, set up as the kids’ zone with a hammock, huge beanbag chair, video games and more. Chatting the entire evening into the night wasn’t what I had planned, but it sure worked out.

A ride in the car also works. Take just one kid along when you run errands if you can. They might just be up for a nice talk while you get things done. A treat along the way helps if it fits into the budget.

Encourage Your Kids To Have Fun Together

Find ways for your kids to spend fun time together. This is challenging when their interests are different, especially when it’s due to an age difference. My teen rarely likes having to do the same thing as my elementary school age daughter, but we make sure to find some things they can do together and have fun.

The right board game or card game can be a great choice. My kids love to play Exploding Kittens, for example. They’ll also play The Game Of Life together. Anything that isn’t so simple as to be boring for the older kids is a good plan.

Family hikes are another good option. Older kids may grumble when the younger move at a slower pace, but they also get the opportunity to be the teacher and leader, which most enjoy for reasonable periods. My older kids have had a lot of fun helping the youngest get more confident climbing rocks in Joshua Tree. Nothing terribly high or challenging for any of them, as they don’t have equipment, but there’s a lot you can do there with hands, feet, and a little encouragement.

On the other side of things, make sure you respect your children’s space. Sometimes kids need to be left to do their own thing. This is especially true as they get older. My teen likes to spend a lot of time on her own in her room. I did the same when I was a teen. If you force too much togetherness, the kids will have more difficulty having fun together at other times.

Listen To Your Kids

Listen to your kids, even when you think you know the whole story already. You might be wrong. Even if you aren’t, they need to know that you hear them.

If you have a child who often complains that things are not fair, find out why.

The movie Labyrinth can help you talk about fairness with your kids. Think about when Sarah realized that “it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.” Sometimes that’s really the way it is. Spirited Away is another good one.

Sometimes you will have to insist your kids talk one at a time. You know how it gets when they want you to settle an argument. They each need to get their story out as fast as possible. You may have to tell one or another to wait their turn.

Even when it’s difficult, make your kids feel that you’re listening to each of them. Everyone needs to feel that way.

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Encourage Your Kids To Explore Their Own Interests

Allow your kids to explore their own interests. They don’t all have to sign up for the same activities, even though that is probably easier on you as a parent. Doing this can also encourage your kids to be more independent.

Don’t assume boys will love one activity and girls another. They might surprise you.

If you’re lucky, their schools will have a lot of options as they reach that age. My kids’ schools have a lot of clubs, which makes it much easier for my kids to explore their own interests. What I need to know is the cost, if any, and what time to pick them up after. That and any competitions I have to attend, and if parent volunteers are required.

One activity I highly recommend is Destination Imagination. The great part is that it appeals to a wide range of interests, as you can choose from a variety of challenges, all of which encourage creativity. Two of my kids have chosen to join Destination Imagination various years, and both have loved it. The third has no interest in performing, and all of the challenges have some aspect of that.

If your kids’ school doesn’t do Destination Imagination or you homeschool, don’t worry. Your kids can form their own team together or with friends.

It can be more challenging when the kids are little or if there’s nothing that interests them in the extracurricular activities the school offers. Check with local community centers and children’s sports leagues to see what’s available.

One rule I recommend for children’s activities is that once you’ve paid for it or they’ve joined a team, they’re committed. I very rarely make an exception for that. This teaches kids to keep working on things even as they get difficult or weren’t as much fun as they thought. A lot of life is like that, so it’s a good lesson to pick up early.

My oldest daughter learned that lesson when she had me sign her up for soccer. She soon found out that it wasn’t as simple as kicking the ball around. But I made her stick with the team for the rest of the season. A few years later, she agreed the lesson had been good. It wasn’t that much of a hardship on her, and she learned that you don’t quit just because something is harder than you thought it would be.

Don’t Expect To Avoid All Sibling Rivalry

Even if you’re a great parent and treat your kids fairly while respecting them as individuals, you may have some sibling rivalry. This is normal, and you don’t always have to get into the middle of it. Sometimes they’re just having fun messing with each other.

My kids, for example, will sometimes call each other names. They get really annoyed if we stop them, as this is something they’ve established as a part of their relationship. What sibling rivalry they have is on a fairly friendly level most days.

That’s the kind of thing you want as a parent. Being siblings doesn’t have to mean they’re best friends. It should mean they like each other fairly well and can have fun together. Some of the arguing can just mean that they trust each other enough to do that.