Trans4mind Home Page
~ Making the Human Heart Visible ~
Inspiring Quotes of the Week + Bonuses!

Siblings at War in Your Home
(Declare a Ceasefire Now)

By James Lehman, MSW

Sibling rivalry is normal in families with more than one child. It becomes a problem when one child bullies or dominates the other. It's also a more complex issue than it first appears. On the surface, you have two kids who are "at war"--who bicker constantly and don't get along. There can be many reasons for this, but at the core of this rivalry is a common theme that runs through it all: the sense that one sibling is the victim of the other and somehow "less than." And that child often believes that he gets less love from his parents than his dominant brother or sister does.

Sibling rivalry is a difficult and sometimes painful issue for many families, but here's the bottom line: rivalry and jealousy are a normal part of life. Your responsibility is to help your kids learn to manage the feelings that come along with it. If they don't, these issues will get carried over into adult life. The feelings of injustice, unfairness, and victimhood that accompany sibling jealousy become even more crippling to contend with later on. By following a few simple strategies, you can work with your kids to manage sibling rivalry and broker a peace treaty in your home today.

The Bullying Sibling
Don't confuse bullying with normal sibling rivalry. So before I give you techniques for dealing with everyday sibling rivalry, I want to discuss kids who engage in what I call the "bully-victim" dynamic. One kid is the bully--usually the one who is older or stronger--and he picks on his other sibling constantly. Because of this aggression, the child who's being picked on often develops antagonizing methods of getting back at the bully. Since the child being teased can't stand up to the bully directly, he develops ways of getting revenge on his more aggressive sibling by saying things under his breath or calling him names.

If one of your children bullies his siblings and has to be the boss and control others to the point of getting physical, it indicates some underlying self-doubt and serious errors in thinking. He is somehow justifying being hurtful to others in order to make himself feel better. In these cases, you have to hold all of your kids responsible when there is an argument, but you have to hold the bully responsible for any aggression over and above the bickering. Give consequences to every child who was involved, but if there's a bullying situation, you have to take a stand. And I don't mean take sides as if you don't love both of your kids. You have to say "There's going to be no bullying here. There's going to be no cursing at each other. There are serious consequences for that behavior."

In any kind of intervention with a child who is bullying his siblings, you have to challenge their thinking. Say to him, quite frankly, "Why is it that when you get angry you think it's okay to hit? What, the rules don't apply to you once you get angry?" And make it very clear: "When you're angry, the rules still apply to you, and so do the consequences." The bullying sibling is going to test everybody because that's what bullies do; they try to exert their power over anybody. But as a parent, you need to challenge those thinking errors directly and give that kind of behavior firm consequences.

4 Ways to Manage Sibling Rivalry:

  1. Hold both kids responsible for their behavior. In many cases of sibling rivalry, both kids are almost equally responsible for the behavior. One child may start to tease the other or call the other a name, which starts a volley of teasing and name-calling. As long as you know that there's some equity in how the behavior is being conducted and in who's starting it, then I recommend that you hold both of your kids accountable. Set up a rule in your house that if fighting among siblings occurs, everybody goes to bed a half-an-hour early. It doesn't matter whose fault it is, or who started it. Hold both kids accountable--after all, it takes two to tango. You can say, "You kids know the rules around here, there's no bickering. Go to your room for ten minutes until we talk about it."

  2. Set up a "bickering table". If bickering--the constant, petty, back-and-forth fighting among kids--is an issue in your house, I recommend that families set up what I call a "bickering table." You basically schedule time each night for your kids who argue constantly to sit down and bicker. So, let's say from six to six thirty at night, your kids will have to sit there and argue. And believe me, you'll be surprised at how quickly they'll stop bickering, because they'll feel silly trying to come up with things to argue about. Even if they run out of things to say, make them stay at that table for a half an hour. And let them know that if they don't bicker during the day, they won't have to go to the table that night. It becomes a great motivator for kids to avoid squabbling with each other.

  3. Stop refereeing your kids' fights. How do you stop getting in the middle of your kids' fights? As long as it's not a bullying situation, don't play referee. Don't become the judge of who's right or wrong. And don't try to decide who the worst antagonist is. Instead, you can say, "There's no fighting in the house, and these are the consequences for your behavior. You two kids have to learn to walk away from each other. And if you're not willing to do that, then you're both going to be held responsible for the consequences." As far as consequences go, utilize video games, electronics, cell phones--anything that's important to your kids. And tell them that they're going to lose time. I always advise parents to have structured free time at night or after school. When your kids get their free time at the end of homework, they get to choose what they'd like to do. That's time when they get to watch TV, play video games, do instant messaging, or talk on the cell phone. And if they fight, they lose some of that time. You can say to all of the involved parties, "You've lost half an hour of your free time because you don't know how to get along and stop arguing all the time. You can read, you can hang out, but you can't use any of your electronics."

  4. De-fuse jealousy. If one of your children is envious of his sibling, I recommend that you try to downplay it. Don't make it a big deal. I think you ought to say something like, "Well, you know, that's natural, we all feel jealous sometimes. Ryan may have done well in soccer, but I watched you do your math homework and get it all done the other night, and I know it was hard." Always point out your children's good characteristics. Mention concrete things you saw and heard them do, and let them know that you're valuing their efforts as much as their brother or sister's.
Often, if a child acts jealous and feels as if he's a victim, parents tend to give him more attention, whether he's the sibling who does the teasing or the one who gets teased more often. But I don't think it's a good idea to shine a light on it, because what you're doing is rewarding that sense of victimhood. Instead, try to praise all your children equally. When they get compliments from you, what they really experience is your affection. It's called "hypodermic affection" and it's an effective way to build up your child's confidence by giving a lot of little compliments to him all the time. And the more hypodermic affection kids get, the less jealous they tend to be, because they feel like they're being recognized and their needs are being met.

Remember to talk about how siblings are supposed to treat each other. There should be an overarching philosophy that starts with, "We're a family, we have to help each other, we have to support each other." Parents also need to model that behavior by acting supportively towards each other. Talk to your kids about what friendship means, and focus on having your kids help each other out. Work to enforce the sense of, "We have to take care of each other, we're a family here."

Ideally, a family is supposed to be a safe place where everyone is loved and everyone is equal. Your children may feel jealous of each other, but again, jealousy is a normal human feeling; it's a perception. Normal sibling rivalry and jealousy will not be taken away by anything you, as a parent, can do. But what you can do is make sure that there's enough love, nurturance and positive regard to go around for everybody, while at the same time, setting limits on the amount of chaos that ensues from this bickering behavior.

"Siblings at War in Your Home" is reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents magazine. James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation Program for parents. This program offers practical, real world solutions for the most challenging problems parents face: defiance, disrespect, back talk, lying, cursing, lack of motivation, acting out in school and more. In this step-by-step program you'll learn the techniques James has used in his private practice to help children take responsibility for their behavior and help parents get back in control of their homes.

More personal development articles at the Counterpoint Article Library

From our extensive site, you'll find good info on many topics using this search:

Looking for a better life?

Trans4mind Training is our series of online, interactive video workshops. We present the most effective methods of personal development, combined with support from expert life coaches.
The human heart made visible.

A great way to support your Trans4mind Training is to use these popular and effective hypnosis downloads...

  • Public Speaking Fear ~ Banish speaking anxiety and nerves with hypnosis.
  • Motivate Yourself to Exercise ~ Build a powerful exercise habit that you can't break.
  • Get Rid of Fear & Anxiety ~ Stop worry and apprehension wrecking your life.
  • Self Esteem ~ Break the negative trance of low self esteem and give yourself a chance in life.
  • Create Your Own Reality ~ Use the power of your unconscious mind to transform your life.
  • Deeper Self Respect ~ Use hypnosis to connect with your true inner worth.
  • Detach From Fear ~ Tune out nervousness and anxiety with hypnosis.
  • Improving Concentration and Focus ~ Learn how to discipline, direct and command your mind to improve your performance.
  • Exercise Motivation ~ Give you powerful keys to getting back on track with your exercise - and staying there.
  • Overcoming Shyness ~ Provides an invisible security blanket allowing you to develop social ease and overcome shyness.
  • Quick Confidence Booster ~ An audio hypnosis session that's specifically designed to get you (quickly!) back on track.
  • Stop Negative Thoughts ~ Learn powerful hypnotic techniques to stop negative thoughts before they start.
  • Overcoming Procrastination ~ Let hypnosis help you get on with what you need to do, when you need to do it. Let nothing hold you back.
  • Think Thin ~ Use hypnosis to re-train your brain and lose weight naturally... that's how to get and stay slim.
  • Fall Asleep Fast ~ Relearn how to fall asleep fast and enjoy a good night's sleep.
  • The Next Level ~ Designed to radically boost your performance in any field. It's based on a technique used by top athletes and other successful people to help them make a big stride forward.
This is our selection of favorites, but there's a session for every need! Choose from over 800 Hypnosis Downloads...
Search now on an issue that interests or concerns you...
Get a free Hypnosis Download at Facebook

Welcome to the New Wave in Meditation Technology

Click here to learn more about the iAwake Profound Meditation Program
The iAwake Profound Meditation Program is a way of enhancing your meditation practice, making meditation not only easier and more enjoyable, but also more efficient and effective.
Profound Meditation provides the smoothest, deepest, richest, most profound meditation experience available anywhere...
Here is a link to a free 20-minute track from iAwake Technologies - a sample of the type of tools that will deepen your meditation immediately and help you quickly become a successful meditator. It's the opening track of iAwake's flagship product, the Profound Meditation Program, called the iAwake Experience...
Learn More and Download the iAwake Experience
I think you'll find this technology a tremendous aid on your transformative journey of becoming your best and most creative self - and you can get started today!
Copyright © 1997-2016 Trans4mind Ltd