How to Help Anxious Children Cope with Sibling Rivalry

siblingSibling rivalry can take many forms, ranging from silly teasing all the way to downright viscous attacks. Children that used to be great pals may suddenly seem to turn on each other, or ignore each other altogether. Rivalry with brothers and sisters can be particularly tough for anxious children, especially since rivalries can lead to additional anxiety, depression and low self-esteem later in life.

Although stepping in to settle a dispute may seem like the obvious course of action, it’s not always the best. On-the-spot interventions can actually make the situation worse. A more favorable solution may be the ongoing enforcement of a slate of household rules that apply to everyone without playing favorites.

Extra Time for Anxious Child

Because anxious children often require more attention and care than other siblings, the extra time spent with them may arouse jealousy or resentment in their brothers and sisters. Your other children may start to feel as if they’re only receiving superficial attention and you’re not really tuned in to their needs.

The first priority is to make sure your other children know that all time and attention the family spends helping your anxious child will benefit everyone in the long run. As the anxious child becomes more comfortable and feels more secure, he or she will require less time and attention, freeing up parents to spend even more time with other members of the family.

Fostering a feeling of collaboration can be a huge help with this task, with each and every family member playing on their strengths for the greater good. Determine what each person’s strengths are, then assign them helpful tasks accordingly.

Special Time for Every Child

Making sure each child gets special time alone with you is another priority. Even if you cannot spend long amounts of time with every child, it’s important you at least spend some time giving each child your undivided attention. The time could be a special story time before bed, an intimate chat before dinner or a weekend lunch at a child’s favorite restaurant.

Attending school plays, sporting events and other functions in which your children participate is another wise move. Take the effort to ensure each child receives the special attention he or she deserves.

House Rules for Everyone

A lineup of house rules can also help keep the peace, with examples that include:

  • Calendar of chores, with alternating duties if applicable
  • Defined limits for playing video games, watching TV and sharing other electronic devices
  • Respect of personal space and possessions, with rules that can include knocking before entering a room or asking before borrowing items

Not following the rules, or otherwise behaving in ways unacceptable to the household, should have consistent consequences. Outline and then follow up with these consequences as needed.

Although letting your children resolve their own disputes is another recommended tactic, it’s also imperative to know when to step in if things are getting out of hand. This may especially apply to your anxious child if he or she is constantly at the receiving end of harsh behavior.

One final tip is to talk about it, whatever “it” may be. Never dismiss your children’s feelings; instead ask them to elaborate on them. An honest discussion can go a long way toward successfully resolving disputes and soothing hurt feelings for everyone involved.


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