Any family with more than one child will have an abundance of stories about the kids breaking out into fights, calling each other names and stealing each other’s toys. Sibling rivalry is extremely common, in fact it’s almost a given. But why? What makes it so difficult for siblings to get along? For starters, they tend to be very competitive, especially for the attention and approval of their parents, which can also make them extremely jealous. Then there’s the issue of personalities and intellects that are evolving rapidly, and often very differently, making it difficult for them to relate to each other. Children of different ages are usually treated differently, and given different privileges, which doesn’t do anything to help with the jealousy and competitiveness. Sometimes children will pick fights purely out of boredom, and sometimes they’ll do it to seek attention or sympathy. A stressful and chaotic home environment also promotes conflict among siblings, even more so if they see their parents using aggression, whether verbal or physical, to get their way; don’t forget that you are their role models, what they see you do they will do as well.

While this kind of rivalry is perfectly normal, and sometimes even healthy, it can also be very stressful and distracting. More importantly though, it can be dangerous (think of all those times they went at each other while you were driving!). So here are some tips on how to reduce any conflict between your kids, while at the same time teaching them valuable life lessons.

  • Encourage individuality by highlighting each child’s uniqueness instead of making comparisons.
  • Don’t play favorites. It’s too easy to be tougher on a child that misbehaves than their better behaved siblings, but this can lead to feelings of resentment and jealousy.
  • Emphasize cooperation over competition by encouraging them to help each other out when possible, instead of relying on parents or sitters.
  • Look for patterns and triggers that often lead up to conflict, and use them to your advantage. If you notice that your kids always fight over who gets to sit where in the car on the way home from school, agree on a schedule with them and have them take turns.
  • Try to give them their individual space. Putting children together in close proximity can be a recipe for disaster, so try as much as possible to give them a bit of space and time apart.
  • Use distraction and humor as a way to cool things off quickly.
  • Teach and promote empathy. Encourage them to put themselves in each other’s shoes and to try and see things from a different perspective.
  • Make sure to listen to both sides. Give them a chance to calm down first, and have each one tell their side of the story.
  • Encourage them to resolve their differences on their own. Sometimes it’s better not to get involved.
  • Talk them through issues of fairness and equality when they come up. It’s inevitable that you’ll hear one child complain that something is unfair, like the fact that their older sibling is allowed to stay up later. Explain to them that younger children need more sleep, and that soon they too will be allowed to stay up later; it’s something to look forward to!

Even if you do everything right, chances are your kids will still get into conflicts with each other, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By approaching the issue the right way, you can help your kids learn how to deal with power struggles, negotiate their way through conflict and resolve their differences with others. You’ll also be helping them learn how to stand up for themselves without resorting to aggression. These are all important lessons for any child to learn, and it’s your involvement as their parents that will make all the difference.