The University of Michigan experts say not to play favorites or compare children. Teach them to cooperate, not compete. Help children find positive ways to get attention, and make sure they have their own time and space.
They note that ground rules are important and consequences should be clear. Forbid name-calling and hitting. When children fight over something, the item itself should go in time out so no one gets it. A child who demands to be first should go last.
Darah Zeledon offsets rivalry and fosters cooperation with team-based competition. "I'll announce that I have prizes for those that put their folded clothes away in their closets. Instead of the 'each man for himself' approach, I'll encourage collaboration and announce that if your roommate's clothes also aren't put away properly, no one can win whatever it is I have to bribe them with at the time," she said.
The Marshalls encourage the kids to share their successes but to be considerate of the other kids. Lording it over a sibling is not allowed.
As for fairness, it's impossible, Marshall said. "Trying to make every bedtime equal, or every play date? I tell them the only way I can make things fair is if nobody gets friends over or there's no screen time. If you want me to be fair, nobody gets anything. They hate hearing that. But it is true."
Zeledon said while rivalry can be a bother, it's just part of her children's lives. "They can be nasty. But family is everything. Your sibling is everything. When we are gone, they will need to rely on each other. So we balance that rivalry out by knowing we love each other and stick up for each other. My children say they love each other every day. We never sell each other out," Zeledon said. "Always, blood is thicker than water."
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