Princeton Junction Campus

59 Cranbury Rd.
Princeton Junction, NJ 08550

(609) 275-8666
Sibling Rivalry: The Fight for Attention

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It has been a full four years since our son Jeremy began attending your school and camp program at New Horizons Montessori

Princeton Junction Campus

59 Cranbury Road
Princeton Junction,
NJ 08550
(609) 275-8666

“It’s my turn to tell a story.”

My husband Ron and I were talking to our oldest son, Ryan, about his college course load and new friends, when Adam, our 11-year-old, blurted out his plea. This had become a regular occurrence for Ron and me whenever we focused our entire family conversation on Ryan and the topic of college. There are eight years between our boys, so there’s very little turf for a fight. They aren’t sharing clothes or toys or even the computer anymore. But Adam was acting out more.

When he commandeered our last conversation asking why were weren’t interested in knowing about his upcoming stories from school or his own extra-curricular activities, it was clear to Ron and me that these outbursts were a sign of attention-deprivation. He was feeling anxious and felt the need to fight for our attention.

I asked contributor and psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig for her take on this situation and others like it, and what I could do to respond. Here’s what she had to say:

It’s natural

Siblings fight, even ones far apart in age. It’s completely natural for kids to compete for everything – clothing, food, time with parents, and of course, their parents’ attention. It’s actually a healthy realization for kids about others in the world – it’s not all just about them.

As with any family, there are limited resources and love to go around. When kids realize this, they also realize that any attention from their parents – good or bad – sends them the message that they are important. It’s clearly linked to that old “survival-of-the-fittest” instinct Darwin talked about.

Kids’ Needs Come First

So, what do we need to do as parents if our kids are at each other’s throats? It is impossible to divide attention equally among kids, and it’s not advisable for parents to even try. I like to advise many parents experiencing this is to attend to the specific needs of each child individually. Set aside a day especially for each child, and deem it his or her “Mommy-” or “Daddy Time”, so they can feel like they are getting enough of your time. It’s really important to spend that unique time, one-on-one, with each child, to try to understand each child’s individual needs.

Be cognizant of the triggers, create an environment for dialogue
Maybe it’s the computer. Maybe it’s a favorite game. Whatever may be the trigger of your children’s fights, be aware of them and how to diffuse tension. Whether it’s setting up a schedule for computer use or teaching the kids how to play together. It’s always a good idea to gain insight into these triggers and stop fights before they start. Always talk it out – and listen. When parents engage in dialogue with their kids, it helps kids find words for their feelings. It gives them an avenue for expressing themselves in a way they probably couldn’t during the fight.

Happy kids, happy parents

Bottom line: Parents who are able to give children the attention and love that they need, more often than not, will destructive or negative attention. And these needs are constantly evolving; it’s up to the parents to get to the bottom of what they are for each kid. Above all, spend a lot of time letting your kids know that they are safe, important, and loved.

Are your kids constantly at each other’s throats? Comment below and share your stories of what worked and what didn’t!



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