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Words That Hurt: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

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Words That Hurt: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

Kids will get into it with each other from time to time. Thereís probably no way to entirely eliminate siblings arguing with each other. Each child needs to learn to stand up for himself and to take care of himself, so you can let them battle it outóto a point.

But watch and listen. If theyíre expressing their own needs and feelings without hurting the other, you can let them try to work it out between them. Kids learn very early on that the best way to hurt a sibling is not with their fists, but with their words. So if they cross the line into name calling, wicked words and mean behavior, thatís the time to intervene. Donít take sides. Just point out the unacceptable behavior and words and guide them toward an appropriate discussion. Tell them itís okay to disagree, but they have to express themselves in ways that donít put down, ridicule or hurt each other. These are helpful lessons for them to learn as they mature and become responsible adults.

Research shows that children with poor sibling relationships are at higher risk for behavior problems and that sibling bullying is strongly correlated to peer bullying. Responsible parenting involves helping your children learn to work through disagreements without hurting or abusing each other either physically or verbally. Every time your children behave badly, itís an opportunity to talk with them about respectful ways to handle arguments and sensitive ways to treat other peopleóeven their siblings. Itís a time to reinforce your family value of kindness and sensitivityóof being understanding, compassionate and caring.

When jealousy, anger and competition take over, the cutting words can slice deeply like a knife. Here are four scenarios of normal sibling rivalry with tips on how to deal with them.

1. One child gets a new bike and the younger one gets the hand-me-down. The younger one is upset and fights with the older.

Tip: Re-paint and decorate the old bike. Get a new basket, a bell and make it look new and exciting.

2. One child gets better grades than the other and the one with good grades makes fun of the other.

Tip: Affirm both children for how hard they try rather than for the grades they get Ė because you do have control over how hard you try and you donít always have control over the results.

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Joanne Stern

Joanne Stern, PhD, is a psychotherapist with a private practice emphasizing counseling with families, parents, couples and teens. Sheís a teacher, consultant, speaker, and expert guest on parenting and family topics, including communication, discipline, self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, grief, and loss. Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life is her first book. A mother and grandmother, she and her husband, Terry Hale, live in Aspen, Colorado.


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9:29AM PDT on May 20, 2015

Thank you Joanne.

5:00AM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

Thanks for the share.

5:48PM PST on Jan 15, 2013

I am one of eight kids... not sure if we grew up so tender. I think we had more respect for others than most kids these days.

7:09AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Oh, the things I've missed out on.

2:46AM PST on Feb 3, 2012

Thanks for the helpful info.

5:52PM PST on Nov 11, 2011


6:40PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Parenting is the most important & challenging role in life. This article mentions how to deal with misbehavior of siblings toward each other. I believe that one should also take advantage and use the opportunities when the children are being caring, sensitive & supportive toward one another. Catch them being good & reward that positive behavior in an appropriate way. We learn to love by being loved!

11:50AM PDT on May 4, 2011

What are our expectaions for our children? Grades? sports? popularity? What if we were to promote rescept for others as a top expectation?

12:10AM PDT on Apr 10, 2011

Sibling relationships are hard to deal with when you are a parent. I like to really praise my girls when I see them helping each other, or being kind to each other. I tell them how proud I am when they work out a problem on their own. It really does seem to minimize the bigger fights.

8:05PM PDT on Apr 7, 2011

Thanks so much!

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