Here are 11 rivalry-boosting blunders that parents should avoid.
Mistake: Comparing Your KidsComparing kids is risky business. If one child seems to come out ahead in the comparison, that's going to look a lot like favoritism. And nothing fuels sibling rivalry like parental favoritism.
So think twice before pointing out to one child how the other is better. "Jane, why can't you be more like your brother's?" is exactly the wrong kind of thing to say.
Mistake: Asking Who Started It"Who started it?" is a pretty useless question, says Samalin.
Do you really think one child is going to say, "I did?" It's safer to assume both kids are guilty. After all, your real goal as a parent shouldn't be to find out who started it - but to help them end it.
Neglecting One-on-One TimeKids need to feel special, and one way to do that is for one or both parents to give each sibling "one on one" time. Feeling special helps keep sibling spats to a minimum.
Mistake: Worrying about "Fairness""It's not fair" is the refrain of every sibling. No matter how hard you try to make everything completely fair, you're likely to fail.
So don't get bent out of shape when one child cries foul. Just say something noncommittal, like "Oh," says Samalin.
It's not poetry, but it works.
Mistake: Encouraging TattlingUnless it's an emergency (broken glass, a swallowed toy, etc.), let your kids know that tattling is not allowed.
Children tattle to get a sibling in trouble. If you listen to a tattletale, you only increase the tit-for-tat behavior in your kids.
Mistake: Not Noticing When They Get AlongIt's easy for parents to notice when their kids aren't getting along. But noticing when they do get along helps keep you on an even keel - and helps you avoid making mistakes that can promote sibling rivalry.
So watch for the times when your kids share secrets, laugh together, play well together, etc.
Mistake: Praising One in Front of the OtherThe child who isn't praised - but who sees his/her sibling being praised - is likely to say or think "What about me?" And that can lead the child to find ways to even the score.
This doesn't mean you can never say something good about one child in the presence of another, says Samalin. But don't overlook the potential downside.
Mistake: Always Blaming the Older ChildParents often assume that the older child is to blame for conflict. But it's safer to assume both are "guilty" - and to let them try to work things out for themselves.
Mistake: Being Too Quick to InterveneIf parents jump in every time the kids start to fight, siblings are slow to learn how to defuse conflict on their own. Unless there's physical abuse (blood) or emotional damage (below -the-belt insults like "fat pig"), stay out of it., says Samalin.
If one child complains to you about what the other did, plead the Fifth. "I wasn't there. You guys will have to work it out."
Mistake: Expecting HarmonyParents often have unrealistic expectations of how well their children should get along. They forget how often they fought with their own siblings when they were younger (or how they still fight as adults).
Truth is, it's normal for siblings to bicker.