OK In Health - Parenting Tips

Cooling the Fires of Sibling Rivalry - December 2019

By Maggie Reigh, Kelowna, BC

Three siblings getting along

Playing the rescuer is the first trap parents need to avoid. For if we treat a child as a victim, he may learn subconsciously to use the victim role as a way to get Mom or Dad’s attention. He may seek revenge on the persecuting sibling by tattling. The persecutor is punished, and then seeks revenge on his tattling sibling. Everyone gets stuck playing out a role and the saga continues!

The second trap parents fall into is hovering over kids, “teaching” them to problem solve, again and again and again. We feel it’s our duty to give them some tools and giving them tools is a good idea. However, if we find ourselves stepping in to reinforce these “tools” every time the kids argue, we’ll find them arguing a lot. We are still feeding their fights with our attention. If the squabbling is driving us crazy, we can tell them to go outside or we can get up and leave the scene. Once they’ve settled their quarrel we can come back in and quietly thank them for taking care of their problem themselves.

The third trap to avoid is using fear and threats to “keep the peace.” Remember, emotions drive behavior and if we prevent the healthy expression of frustration and other volatile emotions, the kids may not fight when we’re around, but the environment when we’re not there may become dangerously hostile and out of control or our children may turn their anger inward toward themselves, or on each other. Using fear to stop children’s fighting also keeps the parents playing “the heavy” and prevents them from connecting in meaningful ways with their children.

So what can you do? Allow children to play fight and teach them how to have fun without punching, kicking and deliberately hurting. Get on your hands and knees and play with them. The more fun connecting times that you have with them, the less attention they will seek through acting out behaviors.

Awareness and observation are powerful tools for parents. Next time your children fight:

  • Step back and observe before you leap in to fix it!
  • Unless it’s dangerous or emotionally hurtful, stay out of it. Avoid playing the “rescuer” and setting up the victim –persecutor – rescuer triangle. .
  • If it’s dangerous STOP it and separate them until they both cool down.
  • If a child is hurt, invite the child who physically hurt the other to make amends - bring a cold cloth, get some water, etc. Know that a child who hurts another is also hurting inside.
  • Teach both children skills to handle the situation differently. To give you a quick guideline as to how you might do this, here’s an excerpt from Maggie Reigh’s CD/soundtrack and quick reference guidebook, 9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child - Especially When They Misbehave!
  • Make it easy for your child to talk. It may be easier for her to share her feelings when not looking directly at you. Sit side by side, build a tower together, talk with puppets, or throw rocks into a stream.
  • Empathize, but do not feel sorry for or blame your child.
  • See the strength inside of her and coach her to handle her emotions and to respond differently to her sibling’s behavior. Help her find a solution that will work for her.
  • Note that once feelings have been expressed and accepted there is often no need for a “solution.”
If children need help in resolving a problem, tell them you want to hear from both of them and you want each one to listen to the other. Encourage each child to state their point of view.
  • Listen to each, summarize their viewpoints and identify emotions.
  • Summarize and state the overall problem briefly. “Sarah, you had the plane first and want to keep playing with it by yourself. Kerry, you think she’s had it long enough and you want a turn now too.”
  • Express your belief that they will be able to find a solution and then tell you what it is. “I know you two will be able to come up with a solution. When you do, come and get the plane from me.”
  • If necessary, help them brainstorm possible solutions. Children may need or want your suggestions to jumpstart the process. Giving children choices empowers them. Try offering three choices.

Help children with this process only when they need you to help them work toward a solution. Most of the time children are able to find their own solutions once they’ve cooled down. Recognize the learning opportunity each relationship in their life presents. When parents try to fix everything for them they deny children the opportunity to learn and grow through that experience.

One father complained that he had to help his young son because his older sister was always bossing him around. It had become his habit to step in and let the older girl know she was not to boss around her younger brother. I asked the father if he could foresee a time in his son’s life when it would be handy to stick up for himself. Did he think that learning how to deal with a bossy older woman may be an asset? “Of course,” replied the father, and at that moment a light went on for him. “You mean, instead of trying to keep her from bossing him around I could help him learn how to handle himself?” Bingo! Sibling relationships offer children opportunities to grow and learn how to handle the world.

Some squabbling is normal and natural and is a valuable learning opportunity for children. Be realistic in your expectations for your children. After all, do you know anyone who doesn’t ever squabble with the people she lives with?

Maggie ReighMaggie's Bio: Maggie Reigh is an international speaker, playshop facilitator, and storyteller, as well as a certified hypnotherapist. She is the author of the book and program series '9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child', and of the family activity package, 'Taking the Terror Out of Temper Tantrums'. Maggie specializes in helping people to release deeply embedded thought and behavior patterns that no longer work so that they can create joyful, positive, and meaningful relationships with self and others. Contact Maggie through her website. Lake Country BC - Maggie Reigh Website - Email

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