Do you have a problem with sibling rivalry in your home? Does it seem like every time you turn your back or try to use the bathroom with the door actually closed, that someone starts screaming or crying?
Supporting a child with special needs can affect others in the home too, particularly siblings.
How Are Siblings Affected?
The Negative Effects
Often, a child with autism or a child with ADHD who has challenging or oppositional behavior requires more attention than their siblings do.
Although it’s rarely a parents intention, the more one child acts up, the more attention they likely receive. Always needing to give extra attention to your special needs child can make their siblings feel left out.
When siblings are feeling left out they may try to copy the behavior of the other child, and begin acting up to get attention as well. It may also place a strain on the sibling’s relationship, causing them to fight with one another.
There may even be feelings of resentment or animosity. Or one sibling may instigate the other, to try to get them in trouble when you aren’t looking.
The Positive Effects
Having a special needs sibling is not only negative. Although there are a variety of challenges, have a sibling with special needs can also be a positive experience that offers lots of opportunities to learn and grow.
Research shows that compared to others, children with a special needs sibling tend to exhibit qualities such as tolerance, patience, compassion, and a greater tendency to accept people as they are and avoid judging others. They also tend to be more independent and show greater social competence (Source).
Despite potential benefits – these usually come later on as children get older and mature. During the younger years, sibling rivalry as mentioned above is common.
You may feel you’re at your wit’s end, but there are ways you improve the experience and outcome for siblings and foster a closer relationship between siblings, such as: keeping communication open, encouraging siblings to share their feelings and concerns, showing minimal (perceived) favoritism.
What Can You Do To End The Sibling Rivalry?
First of all, every child needs attention. That might seem glaringly obvious but often our children need so much additional support through the day that their siblings don’t receive the same amount of attention.
But trust me, it is worth the extra time and effort to make sure each child feels special. You should go out of your way, every day, to do this.
When your children all feel like they are being treated the same way, they will get along better with each other. Over time they will spend less time picking fights with one another for attention and …believe it or not … may start enjoying being around each other.
Once in a while, when everything is just right, I will catch my two oldest kids doing something absolutely adorable together. It could be cuddling together on the couch to watch TV together, or quietly coloring and being really nice to each other. Those are the moments that make dealing with the arguing worth it.
How Can You Do This?
1. Notice when siblings are getting along, now.
Although it might not happen too often just yet, watch for times when your children are getting along and being thoughtful with one another and use plenty of positive reinforcement to notice it.
Tip: Use positive language along with the positive reinforcement. Avoid saying things like ” Wow you guys aren’t fighting, that’s nice to see!” – You don’t want to remind them of the thing you want them to stop doing. Be specific “It makes me feel so happy to see you two playing nicely together”
2. Avoid Turning Your Back On The Same Child All The Time
If one child needs extra attention frequently, you may be unintentionally turning your back on their siblings often. Whenever possible you should avoid this because otherwise you’ll probably see the other child act out or copy their sibling in order to gain your attention.
You can avoid turning your back on a sibling by positioning yourself in the room in a place where you can easily watch both children at the same time.
3. Give Siblings Positive Attention Together
Stay with your children and do activities as a group. You can sit across from your children so you can see, and engage with all your children at the same time.
It doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. You could all play a game together, or play with favorite toys together, or have a mini picnic on the living room floor. When kids spend time together with you and enjoy themselves, they will be more likely to get along on their own too.
4. Stop Picking Sides In The Sibling Rivalry
If your kids are fighting and you weren’t there to see what happened – don’t decide who’s right and who’s wrong. As tempting as this may be, this is not up to you. Siblings may instigate or attempt to provoke the other child in order the see them get in trouble.
Ultimately, it will help children develop problem-solving skills if you encourage them to work through their problems on their own rather than depending on you to decide.
If your kids are fighting and you didn’t witness what went down, you have one of two options. Either, give them both the same consequence. Or, redirect them both to a new (separate if necessary) activity.
5. Encourage Problem Solving
You should encourage your kids to solve problems together, without having you or another adult step in and tell them what the solution will be.
If siblings are arguing, you can ask questions and to encourage them come up with ideas when they have a conflict, while remaining neutral. For example you could say “So you want to ride your bike but your sister wants to stay inside and color. Can you two think of a way to make everyone happy?”
Children are great little problem solvers when they are given the opportunity, and the more they practice the better they will be.
6. Stop Fights Before They Start
When siblings fight a lot, chances are before a full blow fight breaks out, there are warning signs it’s coming.
Learn to recognize these warning signs so you can predict when an argument is about to start. Step in before hand to prevent the situation from getting out of control. You may need to sit down on their level for a few minutes and encourage problem solving, or redirect them to a new activity.
It’s different for all kids but some clues that things are getting out of hand between siblings may be:
- hearing one child saying rude comments or using a bossy tone of voice
- seeing rough behavior like something being grabbed or kids wrestling with each other
- hearing things getting really loud.
7. Sharing Belongings
My kids used to go wild whenever one of them touched the others’ belongings. When it comes to sharing, I encourage it but I don’t force it. So they know I would prefer they share their things with one another. But, if they do say no, then the other can’t use their stuff.
Children are much more likely to share when they feel like it’s their own choice and they aren’t being forced into it. There’s less fighting over toys too since they both understand that no means no when it comes to using the others things.
All Siblings Fight
It’s totally normal and bound to happen sometimes, but you don’t want your home to feel like World War III. My daughter will often come to me saying that her brother pushed her, but when I ask them both together about what happened, I will find out that before he pushed her, she had kicked or hit him. So they were both in the wrong .
This is why I suggest you avoid taking sides. This type of thing is also exactly why you need to encourage siblings to problem solve together. As they get older these things should stop and they should learn to talk out their problems and compromise, without needing an adult to help.