The Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Sibling Rivalry
Few have a greater power than our siblings to make us feel loving, angry, confused, or sad, simply because family relationships are so emotionally and physically close. Siblings commonly fight over personal space, privacy, perceived inequality, and parental attention, and all of these arguments only increase when you add teenage hormones to the mix. Believe it or not, there are some positives to sibling rivalry. It provides your teen the opportunity to learn how to handle conflicts, negotiate, sympathize, and deal with not getting their way all the time. But despite the fact that sibling rivalry is normal and has some benefits, generally, the fights are enough to drive a parent crazy. So, in an effort to give parents some peace, here are a few do’s and don’ts for parents to follow when their teens squabble:
DON’T intervene. Jumping into your children’s argument robs them of the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts, reinforces the idea that fighting is a way to get your attention, and sometimes makes the argument worse. Instead, allow your teens the chance to develop the important relational skills of negotiating and compromising. However, parents must intervene if the argument becomes physically or emotionally violent.
DO set ground rules. Every house should have clear communication on how to fight fair. Teens should know, without a doubt, that physical violence, threats of harm or damage, and name-calling or personal insults will not be tolerated.
DON’T take sides. Stay neutral in all of your children’s arguments. Showing any favor to one teen over the other will escalate their conflict. Even if you agree with one teen over the other, remain unbiased in how you handle each child.
DO recognize cooperative behavior. Whenever you see your teens work out a problem, no matter how small, take a moment to praise them. Notice their positive efforts and you will begin to see more cooperation and less arguments.
DON’T ask “Who started it?” Rarely does this question help solve anything. No teen has ever admitted their guilt, and generally it only encourages the children to blame each other. In addition, starting an argument doesn’t always equal guilt – conflicts can arise from perfectly innocent acts just as much as from planned acts of aggression.
DO provide space. Sometimes siblings just need a break from each other. Ensure that each of your teens has a space in your home (such as their bedroom) that they can go to have privacy or cool down after a conflict. Additionally, make sure that you spend some one-on-one time with each of your children where you can focus on each teen’s specific interests, talents, and concerns.
DON’T compare siblings. Treat each of your children as an individual. Accept their differences and admire their specific interests and talents. If you make comparisons between your children, you will increase their jealousy and anger towards each other.
DO role model. Pay attention to how you fight with your spouse. Teenagers learn a great deal about how to negotiate and resolve conflict from the model set by their parents.
You can try to prevent sibling rivalry by developing a harmonious climate within your family. Give each of your teens equal amounts of attention and affection and set a positive tone in your home.