Parenting Perspective: Sibling rivalry

August 23, 2011

That whining and arguing between children over everything from who got more marshmallows in their bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, to who always uses up all the hot water, to who mom/dad like best.

The nit-picking may start innocently, but it can crescendo to a loud argument, even to a pushing shoving match that ends in a serious argument, the silent treatment or out-and-out hatred. How do you neutralize or at least minimize sibling rivalry? Should a parent try to step in and stop the negativity? Is it just a part of the growing up and maturing process of brothers and sisters?

Dr. David Palmiter, Jr., author of the new book WORKING PARENTS, THRIVING FAMILIES, has 10 practical suggestions to help.

He's a parent, not just a clinician, so he's been there/done that.

Generally, Dr. Palmiter suggests staying out of it, but being within listening range so that serious fights can be dealt with fairly. But he quite aptly points out that most children have to work it out for themselves. And it helps to know your kids are perfectly normal when they bicker. This stage, too, will pass.

-Dr. Palmiter's ideas for keeping your sanity with Sibling Rivalry-

1. Avoid wasting energy by NOT getting involved unless someone is about to get hurt or property is being damaged. There is no getting to the bottom of something you haven't observed.
2. Be insightful. Realize that birds fly south in the winter, flowers bud in the spring and siblings argue, nearly 24/7.
3. Try to see it coming. Don't be surprised; even if you split a sandwich perfectly, that one child is convinced he got the smaller half, while the other gloats.
4. Be wise. When you say an older sibling gets a later bedtime "because she is older", realize that the younger child still won't get it and would sooner understand the calculus behind a lunar landing.
5. Be psychologically minded. A child who is raging about their sibling's behavior is hard to negotiate with...they are basically operating at the same IQ as a frat boy who just chugged a 6-pack.
6. Know yourself. If you try to resolve an argument like who-touched-whom-first, you'll regress to the IQ of a frat boy who just chugged a 6-pack. Better to tune it out.
7. Avoid fretting needlessly. Appreciate that when your children compete with each other, the loser is almost always convinced that the winner cheated.
8. Be observant. Know that when siblings argue, each is trying to get the last word in, which will never happen.
9. Know your children. Don't be surprised when the same siblings who argue with each other seemingly all the time, suddenly defend each other if an outsider starts to argue or fight with them.
10. Be patient. Know that if you love your children and do somewhat of a reasonable job raising them, they'll end up being some point. (Sometimes it seems like not until after you're dead!)

Obviously Dr. Palmiter is suggesting you keep your ears half-closed, your patience at a high level, your sense of humor fine-tuned and that you just realize you'll all have to get through it. Hang in there!


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