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Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

All parents dream of a wonderful relationship between their children, but disagreements are unavoidable between siblings. Children are likely to fight over toys and tease one another. Despite a parent's best efforts, sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up. Here's a guide of what to expect and when:

Under Age 4

Sibling rivalry can be at its worst when both children are under 4 years of age -- especially when they are less than three years apart. Children under the age of 4 depend on their parents a great deal and have a very hard time sharing them with siblings.

Age 4 and Up

Competition between brothers and sisters can heat up as they grow older -- usually at its worst between ages 8 and 12. Siblings who are close in age or who have many of the same interests tend to compete more.

The Older Child vs. The Younger Child

As the younger child grows older and develops more skills and talents, the older child may feel threatened, embarrassed, or "shown up" by the younger one. This can lead to unnecessary competition or aggression from the older child.

Meanwhile, the younger child tends to become jealous about the privileges his big brother or sister gets as he or she gets older. An older sibling's competitiveness and aggression that arises as the younger one grows and develops can come as a surprise to the younger child and lead to returned hostility.

It's important not to get too upset when your children are jealous of each other, especially if the older child is a preschooler. It takes time for a youngster to learn that his parents do not love him any less because they have another child to love.

Here are six ways to handle conflict between your children:

1. Allow your older child to help care for the younger one. Helping to feed a baby or change a diaper can strengthen the relationship between siblings. Encourage your child to be proud to be a big brother or big sister.

2. Don't compare your children in front of them. Avoid pointing out your children's differences in front of them. Your child might interpret comparison as criticism and may think that he's not as good or as loved as his sibling.

3. Stay out of your children's arguments. You may have to step in and settle a spat between toddlers or preschoolers, but older children will probably settle an argument themselves if left alone. If your children try to involve you, explain that they're both responsible for creating the problem and for ending it. Don't take sides.

4. Let your children know that violence is unacceptable. Make sure your children are made aware that you will not stand for any violence between them. Praise your children when they solve their arguments peacefully.

5. Don't punish one child in front of the other. When it's necessary to punish or scold your child, do it alone in a quite, private place. Scolding him in front of another child can lead to his being teased.

6. Set aside areas for each child. Give your children -- especially the older one -- her own space. Keep each child's own personal things apart from shared ones.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, July 2001.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.