Why Sibling Rivalry Will Never Be Seen As Normal In My House

April 2016

Sibling rivalry is the word we use to describe the fighting, arguing and bickering between siblings. Seldom a week goes by without my girls having a disagreement, squabble or a bickering incident.

I can do disagreement and perhaps even an argument (often over those little everyday insignificant stuff), but when it gets ugly and results in shaming, blaming, threatening and dishonouring, I find it hard to stomach.

All the information on sibling rivalry suggests that it is normal. That is happens in most families of two or more children. Quite reassuring. For a minute or so. But then the guilt sets in. Why do I have such a low tolerance for the “normal” sister-to-sister rivalry?

Then comes my “a-ha moment”. As much as it is described as normal behaviour, I will not stand for it. Sibling rivalry will never be seen as “normal” in my house.

I worry that when we see it is normal, we will allow, justify and even tolerate it. I fear that when we justify it as being normal, we might also think it is healthy. When a disagreement turns into an ugly, self-centered, finger-pointing, name-calling event, it is certainly not healthy. Nor should it be seen as normal. Not even amongst siblings. After all it is the interactions that siblings have with one another inside the home that lay the foundation for their relationships outside the home.

So this is how I see it and how much I’ll tolerate:

When children disagree about stuff, without finger pointing, name calling and shaming, it provides a practice ground for learning important life skills such as problem solving, communication, conflict management, listening and empathy.

I usually allow (and tolerate) the first part of a disagreement – when it is about the negotiation. I allow (and encourage) the expression of emotions.

“I’ll unpack the dishwasher. You can pack the dirty dishes in”.
“But I loaded it last time. It’s not fair!”

I wait…and wonder if they will be able to come up with a solution independently. If they are able to listen to one another, give the other one space and time to voice her frustration and come up with a plan that works for both, it’s time to give “high five’s”! But often they need some coaching and some help so that that interaction doesn’t turn ugly.

Children need help when learning the skill of using “I -language”. “I feel it is unfair if you unpack again. It is much more work to load than to unpack!” This doesn’t come naturally for kids (or for most of us really!). It takes some coaching and encouragement. I usually do this by helping children give name to feelings. You can read more about how to help children name feelings here.

So although I’m settling for lots more disagreements, arguments and squabbles, I’m not settling for “normal”.

Over to you: I live in a house with two girls. Sibling rivalry doesn’t include physical fighting which often occurs if boys come into the picture. So what do you mamas with boys out there say….do you have tips of how you manage your sibling rivalry in your house?

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