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2005 Issues

Is sibling rivalry normal?

04/01/2005
A child’s relationship with a sibling is bound to be one of the longest, most important relationships in his or her life. The road, however, can be a bumpy one—the good times tempered with some jealousy, minor squabbles or even physical violence. Teaching children how to respect their brother’s and sister’s privacy and perspective are key elements in learning to get along.

“Sibling rivalry is a healthy part of growing up,” says Rachelle Tyler, M.D., developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. “When children manage conflicts, they are learning priceless life lessons including respect for others, negotiation and compromise.”

Why do Children Fight?
It’s natural for brothers and sisters to experience some degree of jealousy or competition. Those feelings can escalate at times into verbal and/or physical conflicts. Just how far these flare-ups progress depends on the family’s ways of handling conflict and the personalities of each of the children. More aggressive children and those who become easily frustrated may be more likely to participate in conflicts.

What Can Parents Do?
In general, Dr. Tyler recommends that parents let siblings try to resolve arguments themselves. If the situation escalates to the point that physical harm may result, intervene in a way that helps guide the children to find their own solutions to the conflict. This may be best accomplished following a “cooling off ” period during which the children can calm down and think about constructive resolutions.

Tactful parental mediation may be necessary when a large age difference exists and a remedy cannot be reached. “When children are not at the same developmental level, the parent can take each child aside and explain the problem in a way that is appropriate for his or her age,” Dr. Tyler suggests.

Establish general ground rules to follow when conflict arises:
• Let your children know that aggression, physical fighting and name-calling are not tolerated in the family.
• Be sure to model respectful conflict resolution for your children when they see you handle disagreements.
• Finding out who is to blame for “starting” a conflict is not as important as establishing productive ways to avoid the conflict from starting, or from escalating.
• Treat each child as an individual. “Parents set children up for failure and animosity toward a sibling if they expect the same academic, athletic or social achievements from each child,” Dr. Tyler says.
• Enjoy fun family time together so that everyone feels he or she is a valued member of the family.

A Lifetime Relationship
Parents who allow children to work through their conflicts and who promote a supportive environment for each child to flourish as an individual help their children grow closer with each passing year.

“As a parent, you want your children to have a good relationship so that they can enjoy life’s good times together, and support each other through life’s challenges,” says Dr. Tyler. “A sibling is someone who is always in your corner, who can validate your childhood experiences, and who knows you inside and out, often in ways that your parents do not know you.”

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare web site at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).







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