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Sibling rivalry is as old as history. The Bible records the first murder occurring when Cain slew his brother Abel. Certainly, most brothers or sisters today are not trying to kill each other, but for many parents, the fighting among their offspring seems like perpetual war.

Most children appear to have quite a strong streak of competitiveness. In the home, the most likely focus of that competition is the attention of the parents. Siblings want to belive and feel that they are #1 in the eyes of Mom and Dad. They will often go to extreme lengths to try to get that feeling that they are the most special, favored child.

Parents need to remember (and console themselves with this point) that some rivalry is normal. Even in the happiest or most placid homes, some rivalry is going to occur. Children vie for the attention of those two most important people, their parents. It is the "how" of that vieing that parents need to judge to see what is normal or acceptable.

Physical violence in the home is not acceptable...period. Boundaries and rules need to be clearly set and routinely enforced to ensure each person in the home the right to feel and be physically safe. Children WILL swat at each other, but parents need to nip this behavior in the bud so that it does not escalate to dangerous proportions.

One of the things parents most need to do when addressing sibling rivalry is to practice valueing each child for the unique person she is. Some children will be prettier, smarter, more athletic than others. But, each child brings some inherent worth, several unique characteristics which can be genuinely valued. This valueing of who each person is needs to be routinely and often communicated to each child. This should occur not only when alone with a particular child but also in front of the whole family.

Children want to know that they are special. The task of parents is to communicate that each child is seen as special by the parents, and that more than one child can be special, each in his or her own way. Being loved and valued by parents must not be allowed to be a competition in which it is possible for only one to win. Rather, each child needs to come out a winner in the race for the affection and positive regard of the parents. So, if one child is praised for his athletic ability, the next child needs to be given kudos for her fine musical talents. One of the most important investments a parent can make is to try to spend an hour a week alone with each child. Of course, this is difficult to do. Not only is it hard to find time, but this statement can feel like more pressure to already burdened parents. However, one-on-one attention, given over a soft drink or during a trip to the hardware store pays enormous dividends. The child's perception is that Mom or Dad value me enough to spend time alone with me. The activity chosen really doesn't make any difference; what matters to the child is having Mom or Dad all to himself.

Rules and boundaries that foster respect for each other's person, property, and privacy are essential in all homes. Adherence to these principles will help aid the respect of each other that the parents are striving for. It is also good to talk to one's children, trying to foster in them liking and regard for their siblings. Talk of and behaviors that bear out the conversation regarding family loyalty, trust, an obligation to "be there for each other" are very important. Emphasize the unique aspects of sibling relationships. Tell family stories that emphasize loyalty and love.

Parents need to allow their children to settle as many quarrels between them by themselves as they can. Most arguments between siblings do NOT need parental involvement. Once physical safety is assurred, parents can, for the most part, refuse to be drawn into a position of being in the middle of quarreling offspring. For parents who do choose to intervene often, they will experience frustration at being in the middle and they also thwart the opportunity for kids to settle their own business themselves. Children seem to instinctively understand the rule of "divide and conquer." This is seen in operation when one parent is drawn into the childrens' arguments and feels pulled in two or more directions. There appears to be no truly equitable solution, and the parent is most likely going to be drained from her involvement. The other "divide and conquer" tactic employed by kids is to "pit" Mom and Dad against each other. Is there a home which has not seen this old method employed? It is very important for Mother and Dad to stand united and to not allow their children to pull them apart. Kids do not really want that much power, and when they do gain it, it is extremely unsettling to them.

Parents, then, need to realize that some sibling rivalry is to be expected. The best stand against this is to ensure respect for person, property, and privacy; to do all one can to make each child in the family feel unique, special and valued in ways that belong only to him/her; and to not allow children to draw the parents into their quarrels. Another aid is to foster love, trust, and loyalty among siblings by stories that reflect these values. Most children will fight some with their siblings and grow up to be adults who are loyal to and like each other. Parents need to relax as much as they can, while employing the tactics outlined above. It is likely that helping each child in the family to feel specially valued will go a long way to diminish the expressions of sibling rivalry.