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Surviving Summer: Tips for Parenting Siblings
Mental Health

Surviving Summer: Tips for Parenting Siblings

By Karole Shorter, LCSW, CEAP
Posted: May 23, 2024

The thought of summer break can be relaxing for some, while others find it challenging to find activities to keep their children entertained. It can be more difficult when you have multiple children in the household who struggle to get along as they spend more time together. It's important for parents to recognize that each child is unique, so they should take time to get to know each child and respond accordingly. 

Understanding Sibling Rivalry

Various factors can predict which kids will have a more challenging time getting along than others. Consider the following:

Temperament

Some kids are naturally more easygoing and willing to play with others, which tends to win them praise. Others may have a more difficult or forceful personality that leads to them engaging in problem behavior in an attempt to get attention.

Gender

Rivalry is generally reduced when two children are of the opposite sex. With two boys or two girls, there's more pressure to be different, better than one another, and find different ways to compete for a parent's affection.

Age and Age Difference

When a new baby is born, younger children often have the hardest time adjusting. It's extremely difficult for toddlers under three or four years old to share anything, much less grasp that mom and dad have enough love to go around. Sibling rivalry sometimes becomes more noticeable when kids are older and more directly in competition (playing the same sports, going to the same school, etc.).

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How to Navigate Sibling Rivalry

Parents must accept that conflict will occur from time to time. It is a normal part of growing up. Here are some tips to help navigate the sibling rivalry playing field:

1. Stay Out of Fights

When left to themselves, kids will often settle their disagreements. It might work to simply ignore the argument. Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for and need opportunities to practice healthy conflict resolution.

2. Appreciate Each Child's Differences

Treating each child the same way will only make one or the other feel cheated. Perhaps an older child should get more privileges, balanced with more responsibilities.

3. Don't Play Favorites

Even if you identify with one child because of your similarities and may feel you understand them better than the other, never allow children to feel or see favoritism.

4. Don't Take Sides

Parents of fighting kids often rush to punish the child at fault, who is usually the dominant personality. Remember, there are two sides to every story, and it can be impossible to truly tell who started it.

5. Validate Your Child's Feelings

Anger may subside quickly if a child knows you recognize and understand their frustration. It may be helpful to name their feelings: "That made you mad!"

6. Reward Good Behavior 

It's easy to overlook the kid who isn't causing a problem. When possible, try shifting the focus and attention away from misbehavior. Rewarding good behavior will act as a cue for both children.

7. Avoid Comparisons

Comparing kids will make them more competitive and can backfire if you're trying to encourage good behavior.

8. Get Involved When Necessary

Sometimes, you have to get involved, especially if the fight is serious and one or both children are in danger. If the same conflict keeps happening, draw attention to it and make it clear that violence is not acceptable. Separate them and wait until everyone has calmed down, including you. Then, listen to what each child has to say and try to come up with a solution together.

Seeking Support

Find support by talking to other parents who may be able to offer helpful suggestions and normalize what you're experiencing. Seeking the help of a professional can also be beneficial. Methodist Healthcare EAP offers free and confidential counseling to help navigate life's challenges. Please call us today at (901) 683-5658 to schedule an appointment with one of our qualified counselors.  



Karole Shorter, LCSW, CEAP

Karole Shorter, LCSW, CEAP

Supervisor/Counselor

Karole Shorter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Employee Assistance Professional with over 20 years of counseling experience. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in social work from Florida State University. She joined the Methodist Healthcare EAP team in 2006 and was promoted to supervisor in 2019.



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