Transforming Sibling Squabbles into Lifelong Bonds

by | May 22, 2024

Sibling rivalry – the bane of many a parent’s existence? The very term can leave parents quaking in their boots. While the constant squabbles can be trying, research suggests sibling rivalry is not just inevitable but an essential aspect of a child’s social and emotional development 

Understanding Sibling Rivalry:

So, what exactly is sibling rivalry? Well, according to the experts at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP), it’s the competition or negative feelings that can pop up between siblings, whether they’re from biological or blended families, highlights Social Worker Pauline Sevitz. And it’s not that surprising, really. After all, siblings often spend more time together than with their parents, especially in today’s busy world.

SACAP further highlights the complexity of sibling bonds, influenced by factors like parental behaviour, birth order, personality differences, and external experiences. Their research suggests rivalry can be more intense when children are close in age and the same gender, with studies indicating it’s more prevalent between brothers and most severe with twins.

While sibling squabbles might feel like an all-out war sometimes, remember, it’s a normal part of development. Here are some tips to navigate this stage effectively.

Here’s how to navigate this stage and turn those early conflicts into a foundation for unshakeable sibling relationships:

Why the Rivalry Matters:

Believe it or not, through sibling interactions, young children gain crucial life skills:

  • Negotiation and Compromise: Sibling rivalry is a natural training ground for these essential skills. As they squabble over toys or attention, they learn to advocate for themselves, listen to others, and find solutions that work for everyone.
  • Emotional Regulation:  Sibling interactions are a whirlwind of emotions – frustration, anger, jealousy, and sometimes, even joy. These are huge emotions for tiny people to experience and manage. Experiencing these emotions with a sibling allows them to learn healthy ways to express and manage them (Dunn, J., 2001).
  • Theory of Mind refers to understanding that others have thoughts, feelings, and desires. Sibling rivalry provides opportunities for children to see the world from another’s perspective, fostering empathy and understanding (Jenkins, J. M., & Astington, J. W., 1996).
  • Social Skills:  Sharing, taking turns, and resolving conflicts are skills honed through sibling interactions. These skills are crucial for future friendships and navigating the complexities of social life.

Taming the Tantrums:

Ok, mums and dads, this is a lot of self-talk while working through the tantrums. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate conflict (as humans, we’re constantly navigating conflict) but to help your little ones manage it constructively. Here are some research-backed strategies:

  • Focus on the Feeling: Validate their emotions before addressing the situation. “I see you’re feeling frustrated because you wanted the red truck too.” This helps them identify their feelings and develop healthy emotional expression (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Offer Alternatives & Scaffold Solutions:  Instead of forcing sharing, offer choices and guide them towards solutions. Speak in a language they understand and encourage sharing through taking turns. 
  • Separate When Needed:  Sometimes, a cool-down period is necessary (Maybe the meme of the get-a-long short won’t always work). Give your little ones space to calm down. Even as adults, you sometimes need space to calm down when frustrated. 

Building Bonds:

Parents are instrumental in helping shape nurturing and solid sibling bonds. The power lies in your hands to help shape your little ones’ perspective on being kind, cooperative and empathetic.

  • Celebrate Cooperation: Point out moments of kindness and teamwork. “Look how nicely you two are sharing the blocks!” This reinforces positive behaviour and encourages future cooperation.
  • One-on-One Time:  Schedule special activities with each child. This shows them they’re both unique and loved individually. As your little ones grow, get to know them as individuals outside their relationship with their siblings. 
  • Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Encourage collaborative play. “Can you two work together to build the tallest tower?” This fosters a sense of shared accomplishment (Bigelow, B. C., & Laursen, B., 2018).
  • Embrace Differences:  Even twins are not the same little people. Acknowledge their unique personalities and interests. This helps them appreciate each other’s individuality and build a stronger bond.
  • Lead by Example:  Show your children how to resolve conflicts peacefully through open communication and compromise. If you have siblings or close friends, model what a loving and patient relationship looks like when they’re around. 

You can transform those early conflicts into a foundation for a lifelong and supportive sibling bond with patience and understanding. After all, these tiny titans are not just rivals but teammates on life’s journey! Encourage them to understand they will always have one another.

  • Bigelow, B. C., & Laursen, B. (2018). Sibling relationships and social development: A dynamic and transactional perspective. Child Development, 89(2), 437-453.
  • Dunn, J. (2001). Sibling relationships and emotional development. Current Directions in Child Development.
  • South African College of Applied Psychology