Sibling Rivalry May Actually Help Your Kids

Sibling Rivalry May Actually Help Your Kids

Parenting experts weigh in on the silver lining to sibling rivalry.

By Kelly Bryant

If you’re the matriarch of one of those golden unicorn families assembled of children who get along peacefully all of the time, with nary a raised voice between two of them, you can stop reading right now. If you, like the rest of us, find yourself incessantly muttering, “Can’t we all just get along?” then this one’s for you.

Sibling rivalry, whether it’s petty bickering or competition between kids, has been part of the family dynamic since the dawn of time. While it may feel like cause for concern as a parent, experts say as long as the rivalry doesn’t get out of hand, it can help set kids up for the real world.

“Sibling rivalry is indicative of social skills and social development,” says John Mayer, PhD, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and author of Family Fit. So in that sense, it can help kids learn about and modulate social relationships. “But a parent needs to stop abusive, overly aggressive, emotionally, or physically hurtful behavior,” notes Mayer. The goal should be to promote vital developmental learning skills. That is -- how to cope with anger, rivalry, teasing/bullying, etc.

A little healthy competition can also inspire kids to try things they may not have previously thought to check out.

“Some low-stress competition to achieve goals can be a motivator,” says Richard Horowitz, a parenting and family coach with, a coaching/training practice. “The caution is that the competition should be based on achieving personal goals rather than competing directly against each other.”

To prevent rivalry between your kids from getting out of hand, Carrie Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan, suggests teaching your children how to problem solve to reduce its potentially harmful side effects.

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“Create a family problem-solving routine,” she says. “Schedule a time and a place, then identify a problem and reword it to have a positive future focus goal like, creating a routine for sharing the car (if your kids are of driving age, of course). Then, everyone gets to brainstorm ideas using only good communication like taking turns and being positive. Cross off ideas that are not possible, then rough out a plan. Lastly, schedule a follow-up meeting a week or two down the road to troubleshoot or make adjustments as necessary.”


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Horowitz points out that parents should stress family goals involving all siblings. Working together can help each family member develop new skills and feel confident.

“The success of one sibling is shared by the other through cooperation,” he explains. “One example is the sibling with fewer soccer skills can help the other sibling by practicing with him or her.”

So the next time you hear that bickering, take a deep breath and remember you’re not alone. As long as you can encourage your children to work as a team and champion each other at least once in a while, their futures will be better for it.

How do you handle competition between your kids?

Kelly Bryant is a freelance writer and pop culture junkie. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons. Follow her on Twitter @MsKellyBryant.

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