Sibling rivalry has occurred since the first generations. Abel and Cain. Jacob and Esau. It is difficult to live in very close proximity to other people, and for young children it is natural to struggle on the path to learning life skills such as sharing, empathy, conflict resolution, and problem solving. Conflict between siblings is almost inevitable. So how do you manage sibling rivalry if it’s happening in your home?
Intentional 1:1 time
Are you spending quality one-on-one time with each of your kids, on a regular basis? Many sibling fights have root in a desire for more attention, a desire to know they are valued. A special time together can help to remind them that you love them for their own individuality, despite their conflict or struggles. This time shows them that they are worthy of your time and attention. One-on-one time can also be helpful for encouraging your child, praying together and for each other, sharing stories, and can also provide a safe place to discuss any problem trends in their life. It may be more fruitful to discipline your child or draw their attention to a problem in their life (like ongoing sibling rivalry!) when you are alone together.
Conflict resolution skills
If your children are very young, they are probably still learning the skills to manage conflict, regulate their own emotional reactions, and to communicate their needs and desires in a respectful and helpful way. If this is the case, your reaction to sibling conflict is an important opportunity to model and teach emotional regulation. Label the emotion that your child is experiencing, validate their right to have that emotion, and redirect them to a more appropriate behavior. “You’re angry, and it’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hit your sister. Why don’t you go play outside or toss the ball with your dad instead?”
Similarly, you can help your child to learn decision making skills by discussing the conflict after things have calmed down, to help them identify why they reacted the way that they did and brainstorm alternative responses. Conflict is also a time to help your children to separate and de-escalate. You may need to coach them through “cooling down” by deep breathing, drawing, or getting out their entery in a healthier way like taking a walk. Discipline is also a necessary tool in responding to sibling fights, to teach your children boundaries.
Even when your kids are older, they will still need a parents’ support to strengthen their life skills with emotional regulation, decision making, and de-escalation. As they get older, you can increase opportunity to coach them to discuss and problem-solve the issue together, resolving the conflict in a healthier manner.
Managing your own reaction
If sibling rivalry is a normal occurrence in your home, you will probably find yourself worn out and tired of it. That sounds normal! Recognize your frustration, and find a healthy way to respond, so that you can continue to model and coach your children into healthier interactions. Point your kids (and yourself!) to the truth of God’s mercy, joy, and grace. We don’t deserve His forgiveness and favor, but He gives it to us anyway.