Having children who pit themselves against each other can be the bane of every parent’s life.
Yet experts have now revealed how sibling rivalry can be a good thing – if it is managed correctly.
Maggie Bolger, a child development expert and mother-of-four from London, told FEMAIL sibling rivalry can ‘boost emotional intelligence’ and ‘foster strong social skills.’
However she warned that if it continues for too long, it can become a negative thing with long lasting consequences.
She revealed her nine tips on how to manage sibling rivalry…
Maggie Bolger, a c hild development expert and mother-of-four from London, told FEMAIL sibling rivalry can ‘boost emotional intelligence’ and ‘foster strong social skills (stock image)
1. Count to ten: leave them be to see if they can sort it out themselves
Maggie explained: ‘Far too often our parental instinct is to intervene as soon as voices are raised in an effort to force a resolution quickly and avoid conflict.
‘Actually it is far better to let children work it out for themselves, and try to reserve adult guidance only if things start to get physical.’
She said that conflict resolution is ‘a vital life skill’ that ‘everyone needs to have honed by adulthood.’
Maggie continued: ‘Learning the art of negotiation, debate and resolving issues is, for most of us, learned in the first instance with siblings.
‘Constant adult intervention leaves a child feeling that they will always be ‘rescued’ and therefore has no space to learn the skill of resolving conflict.’
2. Let them stew
The parental reaction when conflict arises is to force an apology from one or both children in the immediate moment.
However Maggie said this isn’t always the best way to manage the argument.
She explained: ‘When this is done in the heat of the moment, tempers are high and children have not had time or space to consider what has happened, and therefore to really ‘mean’ the words ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Instead of insisting on apologies straight away, suggest a time out for both children to let them think about things – the key to time outs is no devices, so they have to really think about things.
‘Then, leave them to come to you when they have worked out a resolution. This is important so negative sibling rivalry and resentment does not develop.’
3. Dinner therapy
The parenting expert described dinner time as ‘such a crucial part of the day’.
She explained: ‘It provides a calm space in which to discuss issues that have arisen during the day, with the whole family.
‘Talking about why the issues arose and how they were resolved reinforces the idea that there will sometimes be conflict, but we can move on from it.
‘This type of round table discussion is really healthy and drives open and honest communication with children from a young age.
‘This is another life skill that nurtures language development to build trust in one another.’
4. Mind your own business
Maggie explained: ‘There is research that shows that when parents are around a lot, children vie for their attention.
‘Often they view even negative attention as better than no attention. But when children are left to their own devices to play, they tend to co-operate more.
Maggie Bolger also warned that if it continues for too long, it can become a negative thing with long lasting consequences
‘So, have your space, give them theirs and actually you will find that things will be more harmonious than you thought. ‘
5. Be Switzerland
Sometimes kids simply cannot work things out without the calm intervention of an adult.
But Maggie suggested the key when entering a conflict between young children is to ‘remain neutral’.
She continued: ‘Being neutral and not taking sides (well not in front of them at any rate) gives each child the opportunity to express why they believe they were in the right.
‘Acknowledge these feelings – even as adults people can struggle to see how their behaviour contributed to a negative situation.
‘Listen carefully and calmly explain how each child has played a part in the disagreement, rationalising the behaviour rather than vilifying it outright.’
6. No comparison shopping
Maggie explained: ‘We all do it, most of the time unconsciously. But when it comes to children comparisons can be detrimental.
”Labelling’ children can cause one to feel jealous or threatened by the other, and inadvertently leads to conflict.
‘If a child feels less favoured, it can sow the seeds for deeper more negative sibling rivalry.’
7. Say two things nice to every one mean thing
Meanwhile the parenting expert said that , like adults, children can often reach a point of frustration where they feel insults is the best reaction.
She said: ‘While this is (unfortunately) very common, as the parent we need to reverse this behaviour and to do so I recommend the 1:2 ratio.
‘Therefore for every insult I suggest that the child says two kind things to build the other back up.
‘In addition to demonstrating the impact words can have, it is a powerful way to fast- track to a calmer mood.’
8. Zero tolerance
Maggie said she ‘absolutely advocates allowing children to argue without adult intervention.’
However, she revealed there have to be some behaviours for which there is ‘zero tolerance’.
She said: ‘Clearly these include any physical violence and name calling.’
The expert continued: ‘Establish these as ‘house rules’ that each child takes as a given.
‘If any of those rules are broken, the child realises there will be repercussions.’
9. Get ahead of the angst
The parenting expert said: ‘As parents, we know what triggers each of our children, such as hunger, tiredness or being overwhelmed.
‘One of the best tips I can share is, where possible, get ahead of any potential aggro.
‘When one (or all) children are overtired or overwhelmed, get them involved in a solo activity such as reading, colouring, doing a puzzle.
‘This intervention can be enough to keep them calm and prevent any issues arising.’