Learning to Minimize Sibling Rivalry
By the American Counseling Association
In families with more than one child, arguments, teasing and fighting are certain to happen. While your children certainly love one another, there are still going to be disagreements and competition among them.
The reason for such disagreements is commonly called "sibling rivalry," with "rivalry" the key term. Your children are rivals, competitors, for your love and attention.
It starts when a young child faces the birth of a new brother or sister. That new family member is a threatening force who is taking some of mom's and dad's attention and love, meaning there's less for the older child, or so he or she thinks.
Unfortunately, there's some truth to that young child's fears. A new baby does require a lot of attention, at the expense of the older child's needs (at least in that older child's eyes).
Telling your older child that he or she is still loved won't make the problem go away. Young children can't yet think abstractly, and understanding that parents can love all their children equally requires abstract thought. To avoid the baby behavior that older child will often revert to force more parental attention, try buying the older child some new books, then spend time reading them with him or her so that your continued love, support and attention is demonstrated.
In older children, sibling rivalry becomes a competition for the parents' attention, to be "first" for mom and dad. Excelling at school, athletics or artistic endeavors are ways to make parents sit up and pay attention.
Unfortunately, some children try to win that attention, often unknowingly, by getting in trouble or letting school grades slip in order to draw parental notice. At some level, being yelled at or punished can seem better than not being noticed at all.
In most cases the cure to sibling rivalry is demonstrating your love to all your children. Each child needs alone time with parents, needs to be listened to and needs to have accomplishments praised. Your goal is to let each child see that he or she has "special status" in terms of your love.
Although finding enough time for each child can be challenging, it's essential in order to help him or her grow out of being threatened. In cases of constant bickering and fighting, or one child abusing another, consider seeking professional help. Start with your school counselor, or call your community mental health center for recommendations of counseling professionals.
"The Counseling Corner" is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation's largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more about the counseling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.
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