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How to deal with sibling rivalry

by Cathrine Versfeld
Baby Yum Yum - How to deal with sibling rivalry
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As a mother of five children aged three to 10, hubby and I have had our fair share of sibling rivalry and fights to resolve.

While every family is different, these are our favourite go-to strategies.

Things my children have fought about:

1. A sibling touching their things.
2. Being allowed to sit in the front seat of the car next to Mummy or Daddy.
3. Who last got to play with something.
4. Insisting that it’s actually their turn to do “this fun thing”.
5. Who last got to choose the movie/episode.
6. Their siblings refuse to play the game they want to play.
7. They’re being looked at with malicious intent across the dinner table.
8. The fact that the one called the other stupid, bum-face, etc.
9. Why their sibling just finished the last biscuit/rusk/treat without them.
10. One hurt the other accidentally while playing and now retaliation and revenge is all that will bring honour back to the house of Versfeld.

“I was an expert on all things parenting until I actually became a parent. I remember watching in horror at my sister’s children scream, kick and cast insults at each other.”

I was an expert on all things parenting until I actually became a parent. I remember watching in horror at my sister’s children scream, kick and cast insults at each other. Worse still, I’d secretly wonder why she wasn’t doing more. Did she even know how appalling this was? But man, oh man, how quickly we learn when the tables turn. My kids have done, still do and probably will continue to do exactly the same things their cousins did, and there are a couple of reasons for this:

1. Toddlers are emotional

And by “emotional” I mean that they have seriously limited control of any of their emotions at any given time. If they are remotely hungry, tired or frustrated, or scared or mildly unhappy or confused, or marginally hurt or very hurt or feeling left out or experiencing FOMO, or have lost something or are wearing something they don’t like, or are unable to locate something or are simply standing in the middle of the carpet, they’re a powder keg.

It doesn’t make a difference if their siblings are older or younger than they are.

2. Mine and thine

Because I have five children, I’ve had to teach my kids to share some things, but I’ve also learned that owning something of your own is important. Maybe even more so when you have so many siblings. This can become a really volatile situation when, for example, you own a pink My Little Pony and your sister wants to play with it very badly.

3. Kids have bad days too

One of the most valuable lessons in life is figuring out how to have a miserable day without spreading your unhappiness around. It takes years of practice, and kids just aren’t that practiced.

We’re no experts, but this is what we try to do …

  1. We have a simple rule when it comes to arguments. There can be no biting, kicking, hitting, throwing things at siblings, slapping, pinching, etc. Any physical force of any kind means that you’re immediately the one in trouble.
  2. If somebody owns something, they get to decide what happens to it. Our kids share enough things in their lives so we don’t force them to share their special toys when they don’t want to.
  3. We teach our kids to recognise when they’re in a bad mood. If they’re annoyed because a sibling is “looking at them funny” then they should go find a quiet spot for a while.
  4. We also don’t believe in name calling or being cruel.
  5. Say you’re sorry and learn to forgive. We don’t force out kids to apologise until they’re ready, but we do make sure they eventually get there. The same goes for forgiveness.

Although these rules may seem impressive, they took us quite a few years to evolve. We have them in place now because it makes it easier for everybody to understand when they’re crossing the line. It also ensures that my husband and I always speak as one.

In the end, though, it’s important to let your children work through their conflicts with one another.

If you stop every single fight and intercept every single argument, they won’t get the opportunity to resolve them on their own. In the end, siblings are so much more than just playmates. They are our practice-buddies for real life.

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