Parenting matters: Coping with sibling rivalry

Being a parent can be tough, but there are ways to take the stress out of raising kids. Diana Hinds looks at the problem areas and meets three families who have found some answers

Parents extending their families beyond one child often fondly imagine that these siblings will be inseparable friends and ideal playmates. When the reality turns out to be different - these children hit and punch each other, compete for their parents' attention, and seem to resent any favour or scrap of praise bestowed on the other - parents' feelings of stress and inadequacy may rise to critical levels. What have they done wrong, they ask, for their children to behave like this?

But looking back, how many of us had purely happy relationships with young siblings? Looking around us, finding that other parents are experiencing exactly the same difficulties, can be immensely reassuring.

Most children experience a mixture of feelings, both positive and negative, towards siblings, and their rivalry, when it occurs, is quite normal in terms of the human survival process and the child's natural desire to receive their parents' exclusive love.

But there are, nevertheless, useful tips that parenting books and classes offer to soften the impact of sibling fury.

"First of all, being given permission to hate somebody - some of the time - is quite important," says Annette Mountford, director of Oxford- based charity, Family Links. And, since what children want in the main is our attention, she suggests we make a point of giving it to them when they are being "good," rather than when they are being "naughty".

When two (or more) siblings are playing harmoniously together, for instance, it may be tempting just to leave them to it for fear of disturbing the game, but to comment favourably on their game may actually be a way of prolonging the harmony.

Siblings often fight with each other as a way of getting their parents' attention, so intervening every time will only encourage them to keep squabbling amongst themselves.

Clearly, families must establish their own rules about what is and is not acceptable - no physical violence for instance. But unless siblings' bickering gets really out of hand, Mountford suggests parents leave them to sort it out if they can. Children, after all, have a right to argue, and parents can always leave the room if they can't stand it.

If a fight turns nasty, parents will need to intervene and separate the warring parties, imposing penalties as necessary, such as "time out" in a boring place like the bottom stair for younger children, or the withdrawal of privileges for older ones.

But when the children have calmed down, parents should encourage them to sort out the dispute with one another.

Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Avon Books) is a popular American handbook on the subject, with some helpful ideas. It advises parents, for instance, to avoid making comparisons, favourable or unfavourable, between siblings: "Whatever you want to tell one child can be said directly, without any reference to his sibling."

It also emphasise that it is important not to worry about always giving equal amounts of attention to each child - impossible, in any case - but to focus on each child's individual needs: "Instead of claiming to love equally, show children how they are loved uniquely."

Finally, Faber and Mazlish say you should avoid labelling children or assigning them fixed roles in the family, for example "the responsible one", "the musical one", "the funny one". "Why limit any of our children? Why not encourage all of them to take chances, explore their potential, discover strengths that they never dreamed lay within them?"

KEEPING THE PEACE

Christine Forrester lives in Newcastle with her two daughters, Abigail, five, and Jessica, two.

"Abigail and Jessica don't hit or punch or pull each other's hair, but they do squabble a lot over toys. I get a lot of 'That's not hers, it's mine'. If there's a book of Abigail's on the floor and she's watching television, Jessica picks it up and then Abigail instantly wants it. Which one do you favour: Abigail because it's her book, or Jessica because Abigail was watching television?

"I feel like I'm constantly in between them, like a referee. I'll separate them until they calm down, and 10 minutes later they're fighting again. I get stressed out, and then I tend to shout because I have a very short temper.

"You feel you're repeating yourself constantly - 'Why can't you be nice and share?' - but it's like banging your head against a brick wall.

"I used to smack them on the hand or bottom, and send them to their rooms. But that never sorted it out for long. Now I try to get round it in other ways.

"I went on a Caring Start course for parents at the Barnardo's centre when Abigail was in the creche there. The course made me think, why are they fighting each other? Instead of just taking the toys off them when they were fighting, I started to try to talk to them about it, to say, what's the problem? When you try to involve them in their own discipline, it makes it easier.

"I also tried to let them sort things out for themselves sometimes - although you can't ignore them when they're screaming at each other.

"I've now stopped smacking them. If they fight, I say to them they won't get their treat of videos and Pringles. It was hard in the beginning to get out of the old routine, and at first the girls didn't believe I would carry it through. Occasionally I did fall back and send them up to their rooms.

"But it makes a difference now. They still do bicker and fight at times, but things seem to be a lot easier and the house is a calmer place than it used to be."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Graduate Web Developer

    £18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

    Graduate Database Developer (SQL)

    £18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

    Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

    £32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor