I assume that a great deal of sibling rivalry is due to fighting for love of the parent.
It seems to me that children often fight with each other or resent each other because they are under the impression (and there is some truth to it) that a parent's time and attention are limited, and they are competing for their share. Although parent love does certainly stretch (I grew up the oldest of six with this on our fridge:)
There is a psychological principle that humans behave differently in an abundance mentality than in a scarcity mentality.
In an abundance mentality, there is always enough resource to go around. People tend to be generous when there is abundance, because giving doesn't take away from their needs. A child will share candy when there is plenty of candy. A child will share a ball when there are plenty of balls. I will generously let everyone eat my cereal when I know I can easily get more cereal. There is no danger/pain/stress/negative consequence associated with giving, because there is always more.
In a scarcity mentality, there is fear, tension, and aggressive competition. People must hoard their resources because they don't know when they will get it next, they don't know if they will have enough for themselves, and they don't know if they might have to steal from someone else in order to get their needs met, or if they might have to defend what they have against others trying to take the precious limited resource away from them. This makes them extremely miserly about what they have and very unwilling to share. Instead of being friendly and generous, they view others with suspicion, as competition, and as a threat.
With siblings, I always strive to create an abundance mentality. I want to make it as easy as possible to "share" Mommy, since there is a sense that there will always be "enough Mommy." As this is a homeschooling blog, I will note as an aside that homeschooling can make this easier, since I am home with the children for many, many hours. People often ask, "How can you be home with your children all day?" I find that since I have hours with them, there is a lot of opportunity to nurture the parent child relationship and to be available for the children. (This doesn't mean I don't experience burnout or that I don't sometimes feel like a wrung out dishrag by the end of the day.) This is a conscious and underlying goal that I have as I am with my children.
In addition to being aware of the abundance and scarcity mentality and the ramifications, I have a few practical tips.
if seeing aggression, remove and give attention/love
I mentioned before how I move the child away and how I usually scoop them into roughhousing play. But now I want to add that although it may seem counter-intuitive, instead of having an emotional response of "this child is 'bad' or 'misbehaving' or 'aggressive' or 'annoying'" or whatever negative association, maybe you can think of it as "this child is showing a need for love and attention." Try to make loving eye contact. Snuggle. Roll around on the floor. Pretend to be growling monsters. I can't tell you how often I grab a child and pretend to growl and battle because I am trying to give them a positive outlet for the aggressive energy (and if I'm annoyed, too, it gives me a positive way to "be mad" by playing and "pretending" to be mad), and the game evolves into Mommy and Baby monster and involves a lot of cuddling and cooing and stroking and snuffling.
Play "Mommy and Baby" with young children
A very popular game with my 5 and 3 year olds is me wearing a giant T-shirt and them climbing under it to make a pregnancy tummy, and me giving birth and then cuddling and nursing them (I give them my finger to suck on). I speak to them in baby talk and I gaze at them like I gazed at my adored babies.
Here are articles explaining Special Time. I have a lot of trouble with this and usually only manage to do it (if I manage to do it at all) with the child who is in the most difficult phase at the moment. But the experts say it works and I'll add that it is extremely effective. It also is onerous for an overwhelmed Mama to add to the list. But the payoff is enormous.
when you are playing with one child and another comes over
I have two different approaches, depending on which child is needier. Both use the abundance mentality.
- I always try to welcome the newcomer as if there is infinite love and room on my lap and room for them to join
- I take turns. If the one I'm playing with will resent the intrusion of the newcomer, I put up firm boundaries. "It's not your turn, now. It's his turn." (I can see the one in my lap preen with happiness when I do that.) "In 5 (or 10 to 20) minutes it will be your turn." And then I enforce that.
Ideally, the one in my lap will naturally have enough time and leave of his own accord, at which point I will go and find the next one and tell him it is his turn. If the newcomer is hovering, then I switch turns, 5 minutes and 5 minutes. With each switch, I try to convey that there is "enough Mommy." You have your turn and you will get your turn. You will get enough time.