"She gets to go to the movies with her friends! How come I can't go?"
"You love him more than me!"
"I wish I were an only child!"
Parents have heard it all when more than one child resides under their roof. Although siblings can be the closest of friends, it's rare to find a child who gets along perfectly with all of his or her siblings.
Brothers and sisters fight -- it’s just the natural ebb and flow of family life. Different personalities and ages can play a role, but siblings also often see themselves as rivals, competing for an equal share of limited family resources (like the bathroom, telephone, or last piece of cake) and parental attention.
Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up, but it can drive parents crazy. The key to minimizing disputes at home? Know when to let your kids work out their problems themselves and when to step in and play referee.
The Root Cause of Conflict
Kids aren't always the most rational of human beings -- especially younger children. Sometimes, the smallest issue can turn into a major battle and strain a sibling relationship to the breaking point.
Attention. Children are always vying for their parents' attention. The busier the parents are, the greater demand is for their attention and the less they can focus on each child. When there’s a new baby, it can be hard for the other child (or children) to accept losing his or her position as the center of attention. Sometimes, the parents' attention is focused on a child who is sick or has special needs (for example, because of a learning disability). Kids will act out and misbehave to get the attention they want if they feel like they’re being ignored.
Sharing. Most homes don't have unlimited resources. That means all siblings will inevitably have to share at least some of their possessions. Giving up a toy or other favorite possession to a sibling can be especially hard on young children.
Unique personalities. Your oldest child might be the headstrong one while the youngest is quieter and more introverted. Differences in temperament can lead to clashes. Age and gender differences also can lead to sibling fighting.
Fairness issues. Children are like little lawyers, always demanding fairness and equality and fighting for what they perceive are their natural-born rights. A younger sibling might complain that her older sister gets to go to a concert and she has to stay home, while the older sister whines that she has to babysit for her little sister instead of going out with her friends. Feelings of unfair treatment and sibling jealousy can lead to resentment.
Finding a Good Family Balance
The screaming might be driving you nuts, but avoid getting in the middle of an argument unless a child is in danger of getting hurt. Try to let your kids resolve their own issues. Stepping in won't teach your kids how to handle conflict, and it could make it seem as though you're favoring one child over another -- especially if you're always punishing the same child.