Sibling rivalry is a fact of family life. The brass ring all children angle for is the impossible one of "favorite child, now and forever." But don't waste time trying to persuade your kids that there is no such thing (they won't believe you!), and don't berate yourself if you do find one child easier to handle than another. (Obviously, you should keep this to yourself.) Instead, focus on the good moments — the many times that siblings have fun playing together, making each other laugh, and helping each other out.
Competing for Approval
While the desire to give away siblings may recede once children reach school age, oftentimes it is replaced by a grudging acceptance and lots of quarreling. If this sounds like business as usual at your house, you may have wondered if, with age and maturity, it will ever end. Unfortunately, sibling rivalry and jealousy do not typically fade as children grow. In fact, the intensity may increase during the elementary-school years, since there is more to compete over. No longer are children simply vying to be your "favorite." Now there are other spheres of competition, such as sports achievement, popularity, and academics.
Naturally, you'll want to see your children excel at whatever passion or subject they pursue. But in showing your approval and support, you'll need to walk a fine line so as not to implicitly discourage another child who may have potential in a similar area. This can sometimes happen when parents unwittingly label their children, unaware of the impact it may have on the others. For example, "Joe is the star athlete in the family," or "Jill is the smart one." Ideally, if a child throws herself into an activity such as playing the piano, studying ballet, or mastering math, your acknowledgement of her efforts will inspire your other children to seek their places in the sun.
Does any of this sound familiar? "MOM! He smashed my model." "She took my crayons." "That's my shirt she's wearing without asking me." "He crossed the line into my side of the room." "He always cheats."
Many parents feel frustrated by the incessant squabbling between their children and the effort to use mom or dad as judge or referee. How should you approach the seemingly endless barrage of taunts and accusations? It may be hard to hear, but your best strategy is to stay out of it as long as there is no danger to person or property. Set the rules firmly: physical force of any variety is not allowed. Make the penalty for going over the line realistic. Don't say, "No TV for a month." Instead, establish realistic consequences ahead of time, and enforce them. Avoid making empty threats; your children will soon figure out whether or not you are good for your word. One or two infractions with unpleasant consequences should be a pretty good deterrent.
You may not be able to eliminate all bickering, but you don't have to listen to it. Insist that your children take their dispute into another room. And be on the lookout for traps — for example, the whining of a younger child that leads you to assume the older one has an advantage. As long as there is no physical threat, resist your protective instinct and remember that little ones have their own weapons in the war of words between siblings, including their pleas for you to intercede. Finally, don't let yourself get drawn in on the topic of "who started it." It's a no-win for everyone, since the disputes are carried over from day to day, even year to year.