dr David Coleman: How to help your kids overcome sibling rivalry
How did Christmas go with everyone in the house? Unless you’re a remarkable family, I would imagine there’s occasional tension when everyone is together. This may be especially true in your children’s relationships with one another. Sibling fights and rivalry are a real thing. In fact, once you have a second child, you’re likely to get some kind of sibling rivalry.
Most parents can attest to how a hug can turn into a squeeze for the new baby, a kiss can turn into a bite, a slap can turn into a slap. It is very difficult for the older child to make room for this newcomer, and it can also mean a significant loss of parental time and attention. This loss needs to be acknowledged in order to reduce the resentment towards the new sibling that may arise.
So, competition between siblings is an age-old problem and often crops up from the moment a second or subsequent child is born. Some children experience this competition more than others. Temperament and personality sometimes influence why one child is more competitive than another. However, they often see competition as a means to even things out or regain a lost status. Ironically and unintentionally, we can intensify this competition through our direct or indirect comparisons.
Think of some of the comments you might make to your children: “Why can’t you just have dinner like your sister?”; “Your brother is already in the car and you always stop us”; “If your sister can get her homework done without all that fuss, then so can you.”
As your family grows, the dynamic between your children can shift. Sometimes it can be the hardest for middle kids. The eldest child gets the credit of being the eldest and gets to do things first (maybe get a phone first, get in the front seat of the car first). The youngest child has “baby” status and is likely to get a lot of attention for it.
The middle child then remains with no apparent reason to be noticed. So they often create a reason. Sometimes they’re exceptionally helpful and get attention, sometimes they whine to get attention, and sometimes they can be the misbehaved kid who can’t be ignored.
We also tend to assign informal roles to our children (the athletic, the bookish, the knife, the smart, the artistic). Once a child has been assigned a role in the family, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for another sibling to fill the same role(s). Therefore, not only can these roles really limit children, but they can also cause them to resent not having the opportunity to fill the same role as siblings.
Jealousy is usually based on children’s perceptions that their siblings are treated better and preferred in the family. The reality may be that you are very fair and even-tempered, but your child may not feel or perceive that fairness. It is their perception, as opposed to objective reality, that is important in determining their behavior.
We need to move away from the concept of equality for our children and towards the idea of fairness for them. We do not love our children equally; we love different things about different kids. We also recognize that each child will have different needs towards their siblings at different times. Children need to know what makes them an individual and what positive qualities they value most in them.
Children must be allowed to express their negative feelings towards their siblings. We need to help them release frustration, jealousy, or resentment. For example, if they feel like you understand their sense of unfairness, it will greatly reduce their need to take it out on a sibling to prove things are unfair.
When siblings fight, it’s best to help them communicate better (ie make sure they’re listening to each other, help them understand how the other is feeling, intervene to make sure nobody gets hurt). It is not a good idea to resolve the dispute for them by deciding who is right and who is wrong, as this tends to increase the sense of injustice in either of them.
Make sure to notice and comment on any times you see them getting along well. It’s a reminder to you and her that not everything in your relationship is negative. Sometimes children need to be actively reminded that they can move forward, as it’s easy to just focus on fighting.
Shared tasks are another way to help them work together rather than compete. For example, if they have to work together to wash the car or vacuum, you can reward them for working together instead of for cleanliness, and this can help them see that working together benefits them more than fighting each other.
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/dr-david-coleman-how-to-help-your-children-overcome-sibling-rivalry-42294600.html dr David Coleman: How to help your kids overcome sibling rivalry