Brother-sister relationships are one of the first and most important bonds that we form in life. But to explain this to a 7-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, who are screaming and fighting for a toy, is almost impossible.

Endless childhood fights can be a real headache for parents, but studies show that such fights are beneficial. A five-year project by scientists from the University of Cambridge proved that rivalry teaches children to resolve conflicts, negotiate and find compromises.

But not everything is so rosy. A harmless childhood competition for parental attention sometimes escalates into adult rivalry with a sibling in financial matters, romantic relationships, and other areas of life. Unfavorable developments can be prevented, but first it is important to understand the reasons for such behavior.

Why do children compete with each other

The main reason for the rivalry is how children understand justice. They want to be treated equally. When one is constantly encouraged, and the other is always in the shadows, then conflicts begin. Here, parents need to act subtly, because none of the children wants to be treated like a clone of a brother or sister.

Donna Houseman

Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences.

Rivalry is usually based on one of three factors: children feel that they receive different amounts of attention, they are punished in different ways, and they bear different responsibility for their actions to their parents.

Your daughter or your son wants to feel special and unique. While they develop and learn their individuality, they need parents to pay attention to everyone as an individual, and not as another child. How mom and dad behave at the first sign of jealousy determines how long the children’s rivalry will last.

When the childhood rivalry is over

Unfortunately, there is no certain age when children’s competition fades away, and even more so there is no age when it stops altogether. Stereotypes that peers compete more often or that older people are usually jealous of younger ones are not always confirmed in practice.

La Neil R. Plummer

Doctor of Education, Associate Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.

The attitude of parents to each other, to common children and children from previous marriages, to their own brothers and sisters largely determines whether there will be competition between children in the family or whether this problem will be immediately discussed and quickly come to naught.

Our relationship in adulthood is a reflection of childhood, so it is necessary to immediately pronounce any signs of jealousy and help children reach a new level of communication.

How to overcome children’s competition

Experts identify three main ways to reconcile brothers and sisters.

1. Avoid comparisons

Pushing kids head-to-head over school performance, looks, or other traits only encourages competition and makes them feel less unique.

Alison Holmes-Knight

Candidate of Psychological Sciences.

Don’t use labels when talking about your children. Many parents like to show off to acquaintances: “One of us is athletic, and the other is smart.” Such patterns create distance between children.

Adults should carefully monitor their behavior. Parents may constantly praise one child, criticize another more often, or devote much more time to someone’s hobbies and interests. Instead, it’s better to nurture empathy for each other in children.

Donna Houseman

Teach children to put themselves in the place of a brother or sister. For example, ask your daughter, “Remember when Sarah didn’t let you take her pants to wear? How did you feel then?”

Also, don’t forget to praise all your children equally. This will help them feel like a team.

2. Set aside time for individual conversations and general activities

When mom and dad go somewhere with their daughter or son separately, this gives children the opportunity to receive full parental attention, and not share it with a brother or sister. You can come up with a unique day for each child, taking into account his interests.

Eileen Costello

Doctor of Medical Sciences.

Paying attention individually is most important in families where there are children with special needs. Usually the child understands why the parents focus more on the brother or sister, but still dislikes him or her for it, and then also blames himself for such emotions. Give all your children a chance to feel at the center of your attention.

The arrangement of an individual space for each child, which he does not have to share with others, also helps to regulate children’s conflicts. It can be a separate shelf, closet or box with toys that belong only to the son or daughter.

It is important not to forget about family unity, for example, regularly set aside one day a week for joint gatherings. You can collect puzzles, watch a movie or go on an excursion. This will help children bond with each other and with their parents and create positive memories.

3. Competently resolve conflicts

First of all, you need to define the boundaries. Children need to know what behavior is absolutely unacceptable, such as fighting or bullying. It is important that they understand that these are serious offenses. It is better for parents to remain neutral and not take sides – the consequences should be the same for each child.

Alison Holmes-Knight

Understanding what triggers quarrels will help parents intervene in conflicts in a timely manner – before they flare up with destructive force. For example, if children most often swear when they play sports, you need to keep an eye on them at this time and immediately resolve any disputes.

When a fight reaches a boiling point, La Neil R. Plummer, Ph.D., recommends a five-step conflict resolution strategy:

  1. Set the tone of the conversation. For example, say: “We are a family, and we need to learn how to find a common language, support each other and be honest about our feelings.”
  2. Give the children time to calm down. “We will sort out this conflict. In the meantime, I want you to go to different rooms and take three deep breaths. I’ll be back to you in five minutes.”
  3. Find out how kids feel. Go to each child and explain that you understand his emotions and realize how unpleasant and difficult the situation is, but you are a family and you need to discuss it.
  4. Bring the kids together. Remind them that you love and support each of them. Then begin to analyze the conflict: let the children take turns describing the problem, each from their side, and offer two ways to solve it. And then you need to repeat everything that the participants in the situation told, and make a collective decision on how to restore peace in the family.
  5. Praise the children for their efforts. Say something uplifting, like, “It’s sometimes hard to be honest about your feelings and look for solutions, but you did it. You are great and I love you very much.”

With a little practice, children will learn how to effectively resolve conflicts on their own, not only with brothers and sisters, but also with other people.