Identifying the source of conflict can help prevent sibling rivalry

January 04, 2001

Identifying the source of conflict can help prevent sibling rivalry

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

photo: YVETTE MAY / staff photographer

Ditto children

My 2-year-old throws her arms around my neck and squeezes as hard as she can.

"You give the best hugs, Chloe," I say, twirling around with her in my arms.

I haven't gone full circle before I catch a glimpse of my 5-year-old's lower lip. It's protruding ever so slightly.

Oops. What have I done? Did I send a message that his hugs aren't the best? Is that what he's thinking?

This suspicion was verified when he pulled a toy out of his sister's hands seconds after I put her down.

She screams. My attention is turned to him, and that's what he wants. He doesn't want his sister to have more of my time, affection or approval than he receives.


Sibling rivalry is alive and well at my home.

It causes many parents to wonder how to be impartial to their children.

Hagerstown resident Amy Ditto recently asked me to write a column about this topic. Ditto and her husband, Charlie, have five children: MaryBeth, 12; Emily, 8; Abigail, 7; Isaac, 5; and Caleb, 3.

It's important to know the source of the conflict, says Willy Wooten, senior director of the counseling department at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Since the time of Cain and Abel, siblings have struggled with jealousy and competitiveness.

"It's inevitable; it's going to happen," Wooten says.

Parents can reduce the tension by not comparing a child to another child, particularly in the areas of beauty, intelligence or athletic ability, Wooten says.

To kids, comparison equals criticism, he says.

Here are some other tips from Wooten:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Realize how important your approval is for your child. How often do you hear the words, "Mom, Dad, watch me ...."?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Guide your child in the direction of his natural abilities. This will make him feel special and less envious of his brothers' and sisters' talents.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Set aside a specific amount of time every week for each child.

"It's easier to wait your turn when you know your turn is coming," Wooten says.

Wooten cites the example of Susanna Wesley, who spent an hour a week with each of her 19 children, including John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and his brother Charles, who wrote more than 9,000 hymns and poems. Her influence was considered instrumental in their lives.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make sure justice is fair and adequate. Tension mounts when rules are not enforced consistently.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't allow conflicts to get out of hand. Let your kids try to settle things on their own, but if things escalate, step in and break it up.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Teach them how mutual respect plays a role in conflict resolution. Don't allow them to attack each other's character. Tell them to stick to the issues.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Administer discipline in private so they are not ashamed or embarrassed in front of their siblings.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Discourage tattling at home and at school.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Respect each child's privacy. If they can't each have their own room, make sure they each have space that is all theirs.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Love with your eyes. Smile at each of your kids often.

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