Are you STRUGGLING with sibling fighting and jealousy? Want to stop sibling rivalry so that you can enjoy your kids again?

You are not alone! I have been hearing this from so many parents this summer. Sibling rivalry is at the top of their lists of challenges. Here’s a the first in a series of posts to transform your kids from habitual combatants to partners-in-crime.

Why the bickering? Why the jealousy? Why can’t they just get along?

SIBLING RIVALRY. Such an innocuous sounding name for something that causes us so many headaches and so much heartache!

We are evolutionarily hard-wired to seek connection with our caregiver. We rely on it for our survival. Connection for children means lots of attention. And when children feel they aren’t getting enough of it, they will try very hard to get some.

And when children feel they don’t have enough of us, they take it out on each other. Attention paid to a sibling is attention they aren’t getting. They think (consciously or unconsciously,) “If she weren’t here, I’d have mom all to myself.” They (consciously or unconsciously!) will test you to make sure they are still the apple of your eye.

Their need for attention and connection + the fact that children see each other as the reason WHY they are not getting enough attention = sibling rivalry.

Sibling rivalry causes bickering and squabbling, hair pulling and hitting, jealousy and whining (“It’s not fair!”)

You hear from the next room, “Mom!! He won’t give me back my guy!” They want you to drop what you’re doing and solve it.

When kids fight and you come running, each is hoping you will choose them and validate their worth in your eyes. “Dad loves me best!” And getting interacting with them you satisfies their desire for attention: “Mom’s paying attention to me. I am safe.”

Negative attention is better than none at all and during a sibling fight your attention is now on your child. If you do intervene, maybe you’ll rule in their favour proving that you love them best. If you don’t intervene, you’re pretty sure things will quickly deteriorate. (Coming up in the series: how to intervene)

As a parent and a parenting coach, I ask, “What’s driving the behaviour?” In many cases of sibling fighting, it’s a need for more connection and attention from YOU. 

What can you do to get to the root of the problem? One-on-one time every day with each child.

Fill them up with attention and show them that you could never love anyone more than you love them.

Seriously. I know *you* know how important it is to have one-on-one time with each child. We all do!

But do you manage to make that one-on-one time happen? I know it feels overwhelming and life is so busy! Just for a minute think about how much time you spend refereeing sibling battles… Let’s take that time and use it to build connection with your child (and get to the root cause of sibling rivalry!)

Starting NOW make a commitment to yourself to have 15 minutes a day every day with each child.  You don’t need to go for ice cream, you don’t even need to leave the house! 

I have a magic tool for you. It’s called Special Time.

Special Time is 15 minutes a day alone with your child, immersing yourself in their world.

Build with Lego, play Frozen (they get to be Elsa!), have a pillow fight, make them into a pizza. (How do you make your child into a pizza? Roll out the “dough,” top it with pretend sauce with a big rub down, sprinkle with fingerfuls of “cheese” and other toppings. “Bake” and eat! Delicious and hilarious!) Roughhouse, chase each other, make each other laugh.

Special Time is like medicine or essential nutrients for kids. It’s not just a nice piece of cake for dessert, it’s the birthday cake that your favourite person baked just for you in your favourite flavour in your favourite colours with candles and sprinkles on top.

Special Time: No screens, no reading, no baking cookies. You are in their world of childhood, play and imagination. It can be really hard! Our ‘play’ muscles are so rusty. Put away your phone and don’t think about work or the To Do list. It’s just 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes!

My 10 year old daughter says that Special Time is “how I know you love me.” She calls Special Time “our game” and it’s different from one day to the next. Sometimes I make her into food, sometimes we draw on each other’s backs, sometimes we play with stuffies. She invents games for us like no one’s business. It might take you and your child some time to figure out what to do together if you aren’t used to playing. Don’t give up!

If you want to reduce sibling rivalry and fighting, give your children the gift of YOU and your time.

Set your intention for Special Time each day with each child. If you have a partner and more than one child, you can trade. You might not make every day but if you try to make every day you will make Special Time happen on more days.

Sibling rivalry is caused by a primal need for attention and a fear that you love their sibling more than them. This concentrated super-power form of one-on-one time will make your child feel so loved. They will bask in the glow of your attention. They will be confident that their sibling isn’t loved more. If you do this, you WILL see a marked decrease in sibling rivalry.

Try Special Time for a week and let me know how it goes. Better yet, share with us on the Facebook page.

Next up: How To Intervene In  A Sibling Fight

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Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 10, 13, and 17). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah is an API certified parenting educator and is certified by Dr. Laura Markham as an Aha! Peaceful Parenting Coach. Find out how to make her your parenting coach.

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