Sibling Rivalry What Can Parents Do? Part 2

Further, while parents may wonder how much sibling rivalry is acceptable, the real question, according to Sorensen, is how distressed do your children have to be before you pay attention to their feelings?

“Parents need to remember that there’s a wide range of emotions that one child feels for a sibling,” Sorensen said.

“Just because she’s painfully jealous doesn’t mean she won’t feel loving concern for her brother.”

Therefore, acknowledging your child’s feelings and sympathizing with them is an important first step. Come up with creative ways in which you can make him feel better, maybe a trip alone with you to get ice cream or an extra story. Often, Sorensen said, just taking the time to listen to him will be enough.

Which is all well and good when they’re not in the middle of the “Did not, did, too” routine. But parents can handle live squabbles, according to Adele Faber, co-author of “Siblings Without Rivalry” (Avon Books, $12), by identifying the difference between low-level bickering and an escalating fight.

“You can ignore the bickering, but you can’t ignore the heated argument, because then someone can get hurt,” Faber said. “Typically, parents enter the room and say things like, `Who started it? You two are always fighting. I’ll take the toy away and then neither of you will have it.’ But we know that these statements never work because kids don’t feel any better about the situation or each other,” she said.

A better plan, Faber said, is to follow a five-step process:

Acknowledge that they’re angry at each other. This helps them calm down.
Give each one a chance to tell you their viewpoint. In doing so, they’ll be relieved that someone understands them.
Acknowledge the conflict with respect, as in, “That’s a tough problem.”
Let them know you are confident that they can work it out. Tell them, “I have faith in your ability to work it out.”
Leave the room, saying, “Let me know what solution you come up with.”
Faber said that if this process falls apart, then tell your children that you get to decide the outcome now. “Then, set aside time later to talk with them about ways they can prevent this situation from happening again,” Faber said. “The key is to put your children in charge of their own relationship so you’re not drawn into it.”

However, this five-step plan shouldn’t be used when one child is physically hurting another. Then, your first goal has to be to separate them, Faber said.

The saving grace with siblings is that, just when you think you can’t take their arguing anymore, you find them snuggling on the couch and sharing a book. We parents just have to learn to grin and bear it — and empathize. After all, if you’re a sibling and you stretch your memory you can probably remember a few heated battles of your own.

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