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Sibling Rivalry: Toddlers and Preschoolers

Since the beginning of time brothers and sisters have had their differences. Arguments ensue over major issues and, what seem to us, minor ones. Siblings who share a room are often tempted to draw a line down the middle to keep one another from touching their possessions or invading their space. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children compromise and negotiation.

So what can parents do to help children learn to get along and live peaceably together?

  • Understand that young children function from a perspective of “the world revolves around me.” This is called “egocentrism.” They are not yet capable of putting themselves in another’s “shoes.” (This higher level thinking skill comes much later.)
  • Remember that toddlers are just beginning to understand others have feelings too.
  • Know that a certain amount of competition between siblings is typical and healthy.
  • Be careful not to show a preference for one child over another. Show all children love and affection no matter what their personality type. Although it may be more challenging with a difficult child, remember that all children need unconditional love and attention.
  • On certain occasions such as birthdays, it is appropriate to allow your child his special day. To keep your child’s day special do not feel obligated to buy siblings gifts just to avoid conflict. Let them know that when it is their birthday, etc. they too will receive special attention. Unless there is danger of physical harm try not to get involved in competitive spats. If you must get involved, try to resolve their dispute with them, not for them. Explain what compromise is and teach them to negotiate to find their own solutions.
  • Frequently remind your children they are part of a family team. Home should be a safe haven from the harsh forces of the world outside.
  • Teach them to fight fair; no name calling or blaming. Try using a timer to help them learn to take turns.
  • Do not compare your children. Every child is unique and possesses special talents. Focus on those traits, and remember to praise them for effort and accomplishments.
  • Validate your children’s feelings, and help them to express themselves verbally, not physically.
  • Be sure to model negotiation. Let your children observe you working through conflicts using techniques such as compromise and cooperation.
  • If all efforts at peaceful resolution fail, separate the children.
  • Put any fought-over items away for 24 hours.


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