Having a nuclear meltdown because your brother breathed too close to your hand is uncharted waters for this only child. Watching my sons argue and fight has been an odd road for me to travel with no frame of reference. My initial reaction was to rush in and save the day, leveling the playing field for both children and sending them on their way to play kindly. But as they have grown older - and their arguments more escalated - I have found the need to delve deeper into the workings of sibling rivalry to better help my children and myself understand how to manage these feelings and behaviors.

Understanding Behaviors

Stepping back and observing helped me see more clearly what was causing the arguments between my children. As I watched my boys, I realized motivations to pick on their brother ranged from jealousy, to fatigue, to craving more attention. Understanding the cause plays a big role in how I handle the situation. When my younger son is jealous of his older brother doing more activities, I think it's important to validate his feelings, but also let him know that things will not always be fair or equal among them. Sometimes you're the hammer, other times the nail. But no matter your position, treating your brother badly will never make you feel better in the long run. We can work together to find a solution that helps him feel more in control of the feelings he is experiencing.

Setting Expectations

As difficult as it can be, I try not to involve myself in their arguments. This did not come naturally, however. I had made such a habit of jumping in and sorting things out between the two of them, that when conflict would arise, their first response was to call me for help. Instead of being the mediator, I now give them examples of respectful language to use in order to diffuse the problem on their own. They now know that I will only step in to help if things become physical or one/both of them has passed the acceptable verbal boundaries for our family. 

Finding Resolution

The most important component of sibling rivalry is reaching a peaceful resolution. This requires great intent and consistency from the parents. It is important for the parent remain as neutral as possible when children are arguing so a bully/victim dynamic does not start to emerge. Once these roles start to be determined, it is easy for the children to perpetuate their role and assume one of these false identities. The focus should be on each person taking responsibility for the part they played in the argument and understanding how it made the other sibling feel. Children need to understand how their words and actions effect others, especially those they share a home and life with. Allow them the opportunity to brainstorm ways to 1. resolve the issue at hand and 2. avoid this situation in the future.  

Life is never perfect. As hard as I try, my kids are still going to argue, fight, and tease one another. There is no magical method to end sibling rivalry. What I do believe is with these fights comes the chance to promote peace and learn how to treat each other with more love and empathy. Over time, the lessons will sink in and my boys will carry these tools with them as they become more independent citizens of this world, caring for the others who walk beside them – most importantly, their brother.