As many parents are well aware, sibling rivalries are a common occurrence among some kids within the same family. This same theme also applies for foster children and foster families — but it may be visible in different ways, and may require a few different basic strategies for how to handle it (along with some similar ones). 

At Bloom Our Youth, we’re proud to offer numerous resources for foster parents throughout Atlanta, from financial support and care agencies through simple advice on becoming a foster parent and more. Why might foster sibling rivalries be somewhat different than traditional sibling rivalries, and what can be done by foster parents to help manage these situations? Here’s a rundown, including both tactics that are common among all sibling rivalries and some that might be specific to foster children. 

Why Foster Child Sibling Rivalries Are Sometimes Different

While each case of sibling rivalry is different and may have varying motivations behind it, there are some commonalities in how they play out. In a traditional family, siblings may compete for parental attention or resources — but in a foster family, things are often different. Children may bicker for different reasons, such as to distinguish themselves as the “good” child if they believe there’s even a slight chance their foster parent may re-think their fostering situation as a result of their behavior (despite this being a very rare occurrence in reality). There may also be other underlying issues at play, such as feelings of insecurity stemming from a turbulent home life prior to being placed in foster care.

In some cases, a foster child may feel that they need to “prove” themselves to the foster family, leading to increased competition with other children in the home — both foster and biological. Additionally, some kids may have experienced traumatic events in their previous homes which can make it hard for them to trust other people, including siblings. This can lead to difficulties in forming bonds and increased conflict.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can help as a foster parent — both with the actual issues caused by the sibling rivalry and with the underlying issues that may be helping to cause it. Let’s go over some options in our next few sections. 

Working to Be Fair and Objective

In any situation involving children, it’s important to be as fair and objective as possible — but this is especially true in the case of foster sibling rivalry. As a foster parent, you may need to take extra care to ensure that you’re not inadvertently showing favoritism towards any one child. This means being aware of the language you use when talking about each child, making sure that you’re offering each child individual attention (and not just attention as a group), and being careful not to make promises that you can’t keep.

It’s also important to try to avoid taking sides in any disputes between foster children. If possible, let them work out their differences on their own — but if they’re struggling, you can act as a mediator to help them find a solution that works for both of them.

Encouraging Relationship Building

One of the best things you can do to help reduce foster sibling rivalry is to encourage relationship building between the children in your care. This means creating opportunities for them to interact with each other, such as through group activities, and providing them with chances to bond one-on-one as well.

You can also help by modeling positive behavior yourself, such as showing affection towards each child and treating each of them with respect. Additionally, make sure that you’re not inadvertently pitting siblings against each other — for example, by making comparisons or commenting on how one child is behaving in comparison to another.

Be Sensitive to Past Trauma

As we noted above, some foster children may have experienced traumatic events in their past which can make it difficult for them to trust other people — including siblings. If you’re aware that a child in your care has experienced trauma, it’s important to be sensitive to this when dealing with any issues that come up between them and their siblings.

This means being patient, taking things slowly, and avoiding anything that might trigger a negative reaction. It may also be helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with children who have experienced trauma, as they can offer additional guidance on how to best support the child.

Be Clear on Rules

For many foster children, it’s very helpful to have clear rules and expectations in place. This can help to provide a sense of stability and predictability, which can be particularly helpful for kids who have experienced traumatic events in the past.

When it comes to sibling rivalry, one important rule to set is that physical violence is not acceptable under any circumstances. This means no hitting, kicking, biting, or any other type of physical aggression. It’s also important to be clear that insults and name-calling are not acceptable, and to enforce this rule consistently with all children in your care.

Of course, rules alone won’t solve all the problems associated with foster sibling rivalry — but they can help to create a foundation on which you can build other strategies, such as the ones discussed above.

With the right basic approach, along with some trial and error, you can help to reduce or even eliminate foster sibling rivalry in your home. By taking the time to understand the root causes of the problem and implementing some basic strategies, you can create a more positive environment for all the children in your care.

For more on this, or to learn about any of our foster parent resources, volunteer opportunities or other caring foster services in Atlanta, speak to the team at Bloom Our Youth today. 

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