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Sibling Rivalry Remedies

Posted 6/17/2016 by UHBlog

Are the fights between your children driving you crazy? We can help.

Sibling Rivalry Remedies

If families are nature’s masterpieces, then every parent knows when sibling rivalry is in the picture, it can take years for the paint to dry.

“When there is more than one child in a family, sibling rivalry is almost always in play, especially if the children are close in age,” says pediatrician Andrea Nikonchik, MD. “The trick is to deal with jealousy and sibling rivalry early on to prevent more serious fighting and problems as the kids get older and more manipulative.”

Dr. Nikonchik offers six suggestions for handling sibling rivalry so that the adage, “Brother-Bother-Friend,” rings true in your family:

  1. Don’t let new baby “rattle” older sibling(s). Even before you bring the baby home, make sure the older sibling is prepared for the new addition.
    “Explain that although everyone is excited about the new baby, your love for the older child is as strong as ever,” Dr. Nikonchik says. “Despite the demands of an infant, try to spend extra time with the older child until he or she gets used to the presence of a new sibling – especially during the early weeks. And, as soon as it’s appropriate, ask the older sibling to assist you with the baby. Helping to feed a baby or change a diaper can strengthen the relationship between siblings.”
  2. Fair Play. Sibling rivalry often occurs when one child thinks a parent is ignoring them for the sake of the other, or likes the other child better.
    “Children have to understand that the older sibling can have certain privileges because of her age, not because a parent is playing favorites,” she says. “This concept has to be carefully explained to the younger child so that he or she can understand the fairness of the decision and to create less resentment and jealousy.”
  3. Be there. Set aside “alone time” for each child on a regular basis. It’s amazing how much even 10 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time can mean to your child, Dr. Nikonchik says.
  4. Reinforce cooperative behavior. Give praise when your children are behaving well towards each other or solve their problems peacefully.
    “Offering an incentive for good behavior – like a special snack or toy – often works well and can avoid a public or private meltdown,” Dr. Nikonchik says.
  5. Dealing with conflicts. When sibling rivalry erupts, quickly separate kids until they're calm. Sometimes it's best just to give them space for a little while and not immediately rehash the conflict. Otherwise, the fight can escalate again.
    “Don't put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame,” she says. “It takes two to fight – anyone who is involved is partly responsible. Parents shouldn't play 'good cop, bad cop.' Discipline must be consistent and agreed upon by both parents and should help the children understand the consequences of their actions.”
  6. Seek professional help. In a small percentage of families, the conflict between siblings is so severe, it disrupts daily functioning and affects the children emotionally or psychologically. That’s when it is time to seek professional help.
    “After listening to the parents and the children, a pediatrician can identify the trigger points that require attention,” she says. “Once the problem is discovered, then an action plan is developed that focuses on two or three areas of conflict and concern. The family is encouraged to come back two weeks later for a follow-up visit to report on their progress and to keep the dialogue going.”

Andrea Nikonchik, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Pediatric Services in Parma, Ohio. You can request an appointment with Dr. Nikonchik or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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