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Sibling Rivalry in Young Children

Parents of preschoolers are often worried about sibling rivalry. Here I will answer questions that journalists, parents in my office, and those attending my talks and workshops have asked.

My children sometimes squabble just before dinner. Is this normal?

The answer to this depends on how often your children squabble, how the squabbling ends, how intense it is, and whether it is balanced: and whether he instigator is not always the same child. So if your children typically squabble while you are making dinner, if nobody gets hurt, and if the squabble ends fairly quickly, it’s probably due to the children being tired, perhaps hungry, and almost certainly competing for your attention- in a word fairly normal.

What, in general, makes the difference between normal squabbling and serious rivalry?

Squabbling that ends with the same child frightened, hurt, or upset, begins to feel like serious rivalry. Squabbling that involves physical aggression, or threats of aggression is an indication of sibling rivalry. And squabbling that dominates the way that your children relate to each other– they squabble more than they get a long–indicates real sibling rivalry.

What are the most frequent causes of sibling rivalry?

There are as many causes as they are children, but in general, the major causes are: feeling compared to the other child or children, feeling that the other child is either more loved or given preferential treatment, and competition for parental attention. In addition, some children are temperamentally more sensitive, more reactive, and less easily comforted: these children may act in ways that look like sibling rivalry but are actually just signs of personal distress.
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