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Challenge: Raising Siblings

6 parenting mistakes that fuel sibling rivalry

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Most of the parents I work with are desperately seeking answers for how to effectively (and positively) stop the fighting, bickering and antagonizing that siblings of all ages are drawn to do.

Believe it or not – there are things we (well-intended) parents do that actually fuel the competition and rivalry between our kids. Think about it – if we can just STOP making these simple mistakes, we can curb the infighting and cultivate an atmosphere where there’s more love than love-lost between our kids!

Read on for a few of the common parenting missteps that actually escalate sibling rivalry:

1. Being all inclusive, all the time. Family time is coveted and essential in nurturing the bond between family members. That said, there is also a very real need for every child to have their own ‘attention bucket’ filled by our individualized time and attention. This one-on-one time is key to a child’s emotional connection, security and sense of family belonging that is uniquely theirs. The mistake most parents make is making play time an “everyone in” venture. (Usually because time is in short supply.) But here’s the problem: when you lump kid time together, it creates natural competition for your attention which often leads to sibling friction.

Here’s what to do instead: Schedule in 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time with each of your kids on a daily basis. This time is devoted to doing what your child loves to do – reading, building Legos, shooting hoops, coloring, whatever! Your kids will treasure this new “all about them” time and you’ll find a significant decrease in sibling competition. Note: if you find one child or the other gets curious or a little jealous as you venture into individual time, don’t stress, that’s natural. With a little practice and assurance that they’ll have time of their own, that will dissipate. You’ll also find that once your family adjusts, you’ll actually save time because you’ll eliminate much of the quarreling, fighting and need for discipline.

2. Using the “everyone into the pool” strategy. We all know it’s easier and more convenient to treat siblings as a unit – to put them in the same “pool” with activities – such as playing the same sport, taking the same martial arts class, attending the same music lessons. The mistake is that this “package mentality” doesn’t allow your children to explore their individual talents and it can create competition between siblings pursuing the same activity.

Here’s what to do instead: As you dive into the daily one-on-one time I just referenced with your kids, spend time finding out what they are curious about - what talents and interests they’d like to nurture or explore. Then find opportunities and resources to help those ideas and talents flourish and celebrate each child’s individual strengths as well as treasuring the time you spend together as a family unit.

3. Unknowingly labeling your kids. Society does enough labeling for our kids; don’t you think? Shy. Spoiled. Hyperactive. Geek. Most parents know not to use negative labels with kids. However, the mistake many parents make is using the so-called “nice” labels such as the “good one,” the “studious one,” the “funny one,” or the “talented one.” Believe it or not, these “positive” labels are just as troublesome as they can still create division and comparison between kids. If you’re the “smart one,” I can only assume I’m the “not so smart” one, right? Negative labels are hard to live down and the positive labels are hard to live up to. Suffice it to say, ALL kids have attributes that make them special and cherished.

Here’s what to do instead: Skip the labels and focus on building up the whole of what makes your children awesome rather than always singling out those attributes that can create comparison.

4. Creating unnecessary competition. It may seem harmless, but saying things like, “Let’s see who can get dressed the fastest!” or the frequently heard, “Let’s see who can be the MOST quiet!” creates the opportunity for an inevitable winner and loser. There is enough competition in the world; there’s no need to kindle even more competition and rivalry at home.


Here’s what to do instead: Look for ways your kids can work together to accomplish something and praise the joint participation. When looking to get a specific task completed, use a simple When-Then statement: “When you are ready for bed with your teeth brushed, then we’ll read books until lights out time at 7:30.”

5. Having a “go-to” kid. You know the one… the kid you “go-to” because she will lead the way, accomplish what is necessary AND not kick up a fuss? While that may save you a little aggravation and make the “go-to” kid feel like a superstar, it essentially makes the other child or children feel left out, or have little to no desire to ever rise to meet your expectations because they never have to.

Here's what to do instead: Fight the urge to take the easy path. Be equitable (in age appropriate ways) in the expectations and responsibilities you set for your kids. And of course, let your kids know how much you appreciate their contributions.

6. Assigning positions in a fight. When kids fight, it’s a normal parenting reaction to step in and assign roles such as “victim” and “aggressor.” Typically, the “victim” is showered with hugs and “poor babies” and the “aggressor” is reprimanded and sentenced to his or her room. That’s a mistake because it pigeon-holes kids into roles they’ll likely repeat and it robs them of the opportunity to work on solutions to resolve conflict peacefully.

Here’s what to do instead: Focus on training your children in the art of positive conflict resolution (outside of the moment) and on solutions to solve the dispute in the moment such as asking, “What can you guys do to work this out?” That minimizes tattling, aggression, and teaches valuable skills they’ll need in adulthood.

And lastly, realize that some sibling rivalry is normal and navigating the bumpy road can be fraught with mistakes. Remember that how you react to those bumps is the key. Instead of dwelling in the mistakes, know that you can teach your children to develop their relationship with each other in healthy and loving ways. And when you do – you’ll teach skills and mindsets that they will use to manage relationships the rest of their lives.

Relax, own these strategies and skills and enjoy these precious years with your kids! We’re here to help.

Parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Learn more about free training webinars with Amy McCready.

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