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how to deal with step-sibling rivalry

Step-sibling Rivalry: Fostering Peace In Your Blended Family

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Does your blended family struggle with step-sibling rivalry? If that is the case, this article will provide you with helpful information on how to reassure harmony at home. 

Navigating sibling rivalries is a very common occurrence in families. All siblings can be expected to argue, fight, and have days when it feels like they may never get along. The addition of a step-sibling or half-sibling can only complicate an already nuanced and emotional situation. 

Step-sibling rivalry can add an intense amount of pressure and stress to a family that is trying hard to come together and unite as one.  When you are blending two families with children, step-sibling rivalry can impact every member of the family. 

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If you are stressed about step-sibling rivalry in your blended family, first know that you are not alone. These relationships take time and a little extra effort.

Once you learn how to deal with step-sibling rivalry and understand what is causing it, you will be well on your way to a happy, healthy, and united blended family. 

Is Step-sibling Rivalry Different From Sibling Rivalry?

Even in families that do not have step-siblings or half-siblings, sibling rivalry exists. With children, there are many reasons that contribute to sibling arguments, competition, and disagreements. 

Sometimes, the root of sibling rivalry can occur when a new sibling arrives. It is normal for a child to feel jealous once they have to start sharing their parent’s attention.

The child may start acting out, regressing, or demonstrating new behaviors all in an effort to get their parents’ attention away from the new sibling. 

Sibling rivalry often shows itself in fighting amongst siblings. Arguments can erupt from small trivial matters to more serious underlying emotions. 

These fights can be caused by feelings like:

  • Needing to define their own identity;
  • Urge to show how they’re different from their sibling;
  • A sibling getting more attention from their parents than the others;
  • Struggling over who has more chores or responsibility;
  • Anger over a sibling being given special treatment by their parents;
  • Resentment from having to spend time with or care for their sibling. 

Another common reason for sibling rivalry within a home is stress or conflict between parents. Children are constantly watching their parents for social and emotional cues. If their parents are arguing or abnormally stressed, children will begin to mimic that type of behavior with their siblings. 

In addition to all of the factors that contribute to sibling rivalry, blended families have to deal with additional stressors that affect step-sibling rivalry

If you are trying to figure out how to stop step-sibling rivalry, it is important to remember that building family relationships will take time and patience. The underlying connections and feelings of love that exist in sibling relationships make handling sibling rivalry a little easier than step-sibling rivalry.

When it comes to how to deal with step-sibling rivalry,  you first have to understand and consider the unique circumstances your child may be trying to process. 

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What Causes Step-sibling Rivalry?

Young children do not have the emotional maturity to process or handle complex feelings or conflict. It is important to understand that when blending families, step-siblings, or half-siblings. 

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In addition to the experiences that create sibling rivalry, step-sibling rivalry is also caused by:

  • The stress of adding multiple new family members with varying personalities;
  • Sadness, anger, or stress from the dissolution of their previous family structure;
  • Feeling jealous when a parent shows love or attention to their step-sibling;
  • Feeling slighted, disrespected, or ignored by new family members;
  • Insecurity and a lack of understanding about their place in the new family unit. 

Step-sibling rivalry can be caused by any of these reasons at any given time. Different behaviors or conflicts can stem from any combination of these reasons. 

Every child is different and every blended family has its own unique set of circumstances. Be sure to keep this in mind when trying to deal with step-sibling rivalry in your home. 

Once you have an understanding of what may be contributing to the step-sibling rivalry in your family, you can begin to work with and help your child or children stop sibling rivalry in a productive and supportive way. 

How To Deal With Step-sibling Rivalry

While there is no way you can learn how to stop sibling rivalry from ever happening, there are some ways you and your partner can help support your children and each other. 

Focusing on building long-term, healthy relationships will help diffuse a lot of the added stress that can intensify step-sibling rivalry. While it won’t happen overnight, there are some very effective strategies and systems you can put in place to help ease the stress of blending step-siblings.

1. Manage Expectations

First and foremost, take a step back and remember that not everyone in your new family is going to be best friends from the start. Personality clashes and adjustments to daily routines are normal hurdles to combining two families.

It is also critical that you and your partner have the same expectations when it comes to parenting each other’s children and setting rules and disciplinary roles. Make sure you are both clear about the roles you expect each other to play when parenting your own children. 

If your parenting styles differ when it comes to discipline, it is critical that you come to a shared expectation. If step-siblings feel that they are being parented differently, it will only lead to a perception of unfairness and increased step-sibling rivalry

2.  Be Proactive

Give yourself and your new family the opportunity to talk about and deal with any issues that are occurring before they can add to any step-sibling rivalry. Holding a regularly scheduled family meeting is a great way to ease everyone’s transition.

You can start holding these meetings even before everyone moves in together. During these meetings be sure to have open conversations about your goals, expectations and house rules.

Make sure that every member of the family gets the opportunity to really express themselves and encourage positive communication and respectful behavior to help resolve any potential conflicts.

Ask your children for their opinions and suggestions and validate their input. Children often feel like they don’t get an opinion. This helps to make them feel like they have an active role in the new family unit. 

3. Set Important Boundaries

While many of the underlying causes of step-sibling rivalry take time to resolve, there are some boundaries you can set in place immediately to avoid added stressors that can intensify the tension between step-siblings. 

The most important things you can do to stop sibling rivalry are:

  • Never Take Sides: When disagreements between children and new family members arise, it is natural to want to take your child’s side. However, this can alienate other family members and make matter worse. Always stay neutral and unbiased when issues arise and work to solve them together.
  • Never Compare Children: Very few things fuel competition like comparison. You can avoid instilling negative feelings between step-siblings by making sure they are not compared to each other. This includes not saying things like “But your brother did this…” or “Your stepsister did that…”.
  • Respect Personal Autonomy and Space: When blending families, it is vital that each child is encouraged to and are allowed to have, protect, be respected for their own possessions and personal space. Do not force sharing and be sure to support each child’s own sense of individuality. 
  • Spend Alone Time With Each Child: Trust and quality relationships are built over time. It is important that each parent and child spend time alone together. Whether it is an outing or simply just taking the time to sit and chat with each other, carving out uninterrupted time together will create familial bonds. 

4. Take One Day At A Time

Figuring out exactly how to deal with sibling rivalry in your blended family takes time, effort, and some trial and error. In addition to managing expectations, being proactive and setting boundaries, other tips for handling sibling rivalry include:

  • Watching out for jealousy;
  • Being mindful of birth order and change in sibling status;
  • Celebrating each child for their individual successes and personalities;
  • Not intervening all the time. Give children space to solve problems on their own;
  • Being patient;
  • Asking for help. Speak to your children’s pediatrician or a family counselor.

Speaking of help, would you like to know more about children’s behavior?

An effective way of gathering more information on social and emotional themes like step-sibling rivalry is to download the Kinedu app and talk to our experts!

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