Tag Archives: stop sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry: what our kids really fight about

My boys, walking side by side. No sibling rivalry here!

My boys, walking side by side. No sibling rivalry here!

Anyone with siblings knows that living with brothers and sisters has its ups and downs. Who else can give you a kiss or a hug, then just a few minutes later pull your hair, kick you, or even worse? As parents, we don’t always get to witness our kids’ quiet, tender moments but we hear the quarrels loud and clear! What the heck are siblings fighting about anyway?

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s must-read book “Nurture Shock” has a whole chapter dedicated to sibling rivalry. As a mother of two young boys, reading these 15 pages has given me a lot of insight and reassurance. Studies show siblings between the ages of 3 and 7 clash an average of 3.5 times per hour. That equals to 10 minutes of arguing every hour – how unproductive! It’s striking to learn that the way siblings interact when they’re little will remain the same in their adulthood (hopefully with less physical fights!). So anything parents can do to encourage positive sibling interactions will have lifetime consequences.

Bronson and Merryman suggest to forget about Freud and his idea that children fight over their parents’ love and attention. Poor Freud, just when I mentioned his Oedipus concept was overblown in my previous post… Well, the famous psychiatrist can roll over in his grave but the data is clear. Less than 10% of sibling fights happen to be over parental affection. As much as we’d like to think our kids worship us, we’re not the center of their arguments. So what do siblings fight about? 75-80% of arguments are about, drumroll please… TOYS!!!

This theory is 100% true at our house! No matter how many toys they have, my boys always want to play with the same one at any given time. This what I get to hear 3.5 times per hour:
“Give me that”
“I want it”
“It’s mine”
“I got it first”
“I was playing with that”
And my favorite,
“Give it back or I’m going to rip your arm off”
This one is my clue to intervene…

Even though individual personalities can shape sibling interactions, the best we can do is to help our kids develop tools for conflict prevention, not just resolution. Bronson and Merryman suggest to help them think of ways to play well together and how to work out conflicts on their own. This is a tough angle for me because my attitude towards any toy conflict is to take the toy away – problem solved! So it’s a learning process for me too – back off and let them figure it out…

Another book I really like on this subject is “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. These two brilliant ladies, also authors of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”, provide many tools and tips for parents and kids to handle hundreds of situations. Helping kids improve their communications skills will lead to a more peaceful household. Hmm, maybe we should implement such lessons in the workplace…

My boys still have a lot of skills to learn but it’s good for them to start early, one day at a time! When I hear them giggling and laughing, and making up some imaginary play together in peace, I know something’s working.

Have you found tools that work great to solve or avoid sibling conflicts? If so, would you mind sharing?

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