There are many reasons why siblings fight with each other. Some, like personality clashes, are beyond your control, but there is one factor which you do have some influence over. It’s a what not to do thing. If you do it, you absolutely, positively will create rampant sibling rivalry which will inevitably lead to fighting. This is it:
Do not compare them.
Ok, I’ll amend that slightly. Do not compare them out loud. What goes on in your head is your own business. But do not say stuff to them or about them that compares one to the other within their earshot. Actually, try not to compare them out of their range of hearing as well. It’s a habit and it’s extremely hard to break.
It begins innocently enough. When you have your second child, you may find yourself saying things about how one crawled earlier than the other, or that number 1 would eat anything while number 2 is fussy. You can justify the first comparison on the grounds that it’s about a developmental milestone. If your first 3 children all crawled by 10 months and your fourth is still sitting like a Buddha past their first birthday, you can use comparison as a possible red flag. But consider the second example. Fabulous Flynn would eat anything but Painful Penny is a fussy eater. It’s a value judgement. It’s obvious which way a parent’s preference will go. It’s highly unlikely that you’re praising Penny for her discernment. It’s a criticism. You’re saying Johnny is better than Penny at something, and Penny hears it simply as Mummy likes Johnny more than me.
You may think you’re talking about eating habits, but your child will take it to the next level. They, above all else, want your love and attention and if it seems to them that their sibling is edging them out of their fair share, they’re not going to thank them for it. Rather than try to raise themselves to their sibling’s lofty position of favour, they are more likely to try to bring them down a peg or two to join them in the sin bin. For example, they might dob on them incessantly to try to get you to see that they’re not the angel you’ve made them out to be, or they might just give them a good wack when you’re not looking.
And so the wedge is put in place. And with every comparison thereafter, it is driven deeper and deeper.
I know it’s hard to stop. It seems to make perfect sense to say “Why can’t you be good like your sister?”, but what you really mean is “I wish you were good like you’re sister”, and if we break it down it becomes “I wish you were like your sister” which can then be heard as “I wish you weren’t you”. I know this might sound overly dramatic, but a child’s mind is a fragile place.
So what’s the alternative? I’m not advocating that we never say anything negative to our children, just that we don’t say it as a function of their sibling’s behaviour or characteristics. You can say “I wish you were better behaved” or “Eat your bloody vegies!!!” just don’t add the next bit “like your brother or sister.”
If this makes sense to you and you want an easy way to break the comparison habit, think of what you would say about whatever’s getting you riled if your kid was an only child. Talk to them about them and only them, because the reason they can’t be more like their brother or sister is because they’re not.
They are unique.