The Signals to Follow when dealing with Sibling Rivalry

No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.
Bill Cosby

Sibling rivalry is normal but annoying. Many factors contribute to the agitation: age, temperament, gender, amount of sleep – and that’s just the parents I’m talking about. The kids are a whole other story. So, when sibling squabbles arise and you become concerned and possibly confused about your role as the referee, use the following “Stop Light” analogy as a guide.

  • Green Light: normal bickering, all verbal, minor name-calling – stay out of it
  • Yellow Light: volume going up, objectionable name-calling – move closer, pay attention for potential escalation
  • Yellow/Red Light: more serious, possible physical/emotional harm – firmly stop the interchange, reviewing the rules, possibly separating the children until everyone settles
  • Red Light: physical harm – firmly stop and separate children, attend to hurt child first. At this point, you can set limits, teach the kids about not hurting one another, discuss what they can do instead when they disagree, impose consequences, or perhaps revisit the rules in your family.

Each family, child, and situation is unique so it’s hard to say exactly what to do in every circumstance. But having a tool belt full of possible skills and approaches will help you to respond effectively when the fighting breaks out. Caveat: Never use spanking to stop sibling rivalry because it teaches children that violence is the way to deal with anger and problems and that the bigger/stronger person can use brute force to “win.”

By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator

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