Handling Sibling Rivalry – Part II


Since the subject of sibling rivalry is so wide range, we decided to continue elaborating with more tips for you this month.

shutterstock_97127627.jpgExamples of conflict and friction between siblings has been documented from biblical times and is still a hot topic of discussion at parenting seminars, at houses of worship, fodder for novels and at the dinner table.

The term sibling refers to children who are related and living in the same family. Sibling rivalry has existed as long as families. Think back to Biblical times and Joseph’s problems with his brothers or of the dreadful time Cinderella had with her stepsisters!

shutterstock_608866.jpgIt seems strange that whenever the word sibling comes up, the word rivalry seems sure to follow despite the fact that there are many solid sibling relationships in families (brothers and sisters who like and enjoy one another). However, it is the rivalry that gets attention -  the proverbial squeaky wheel.

What causes sibling rivalry? Think about it. Siblings don’t choose the family they are born into, don’t choose each other. They may be of different sex, are probably of different age and temperament, and worst of all, they have to share the one person or the two people they most want for themselves: their parents. Other factors include:

  • Position in the family, for example, the oldest child may be burdened with responsibilities for the younger children or the younger child spends his life trying to catch up with an older sibling;
  • Sex, for instance, a son may hate his sister because his father seems more gentle with her. On the other hand, a daughter may wish she could go on the hunting trip with her father and brother;
  • Age, a five and an eight year old can play some games together but when they become ten and thirteen, they will probably be poles apart.

shutterstock_126728759.jpgThe most important factor, however, is parental attitude. Parents have been taught that they must be impartial but this can be extremely difficult. It’s inevitable that parents will feel differently about children who have different personalities with differing needs, dispositions. and place in the family. Picture the age-old conflict of the young child whining. “It’s not fair. Why can’t I stay up until 9:30 PM like Jason?” Fairness has nothing to do with it. Sandra is younger and needs more sleep. It’s as simple as that, and parents are advised never to give in to the old “it’s not fair” strategy. Besides, when Sandra is finally allowed to stay up until 9:30 PM, it will seem a real privilege to her.

shutterstock_48240721.jpgMany parents feel that in order to be fair they must try to treat their children equally. It’s simply not possible, and it can be dehumanizing If a mother feels that when she hugs one child. she must stop and hug all of her children, hugs soon become somewhat meaningless in that family. When Sandra has a birthday or is sick, she is the one who merits the special attention and presents. You can be sure that the other youngsters in the family no matter what they may say, recognize the inherent “fairness” of the situation.

Ever since we decided that sibling rivalry is normal, we’ve had a terrible time figuring out what to do about it. However, here are some do’s and don’ts that may be helpful in dampening sibling rivalry within a family:

  • Don’t make comparisons. (“I don’t understand it. When Jason was her age, he could already tie his shoes.”) Each child feels he is unique and rightly so-he is unique, and he resents being evaluated only in relation to someone else. Instead of comparison, each child in the family should be given his own goals and levels of expectation that relate only to him.
  • Don’t dismiss or suppress your children’s resentment or angry feelings. Contrary to what many people think, anger is not something we should try to avoid at all costs. It’s an entirely normal part of being human, and it’s certainly normal for siblings to get furious with one another. They need the adults in their lives to assure them that mothers and fathers get angry, too, but have learned control and that angry feelings do not give license to behave in cruel and dangerous ways. This is the time to sit down, acknowledge the anger (“I know you hate Dillon right now but you cannot hit him with a stick”). and talk it through.
  • Try to avoid situations that promote guilt in siblings. First we must teach children that feelings and actions are not synonymous. It may be normal to want to hit the baby on the head, but parents must stop a child from doing it. The guilt that follows doing something mean or inappropriate is a lot worse than the guilt of merely feeling mean. So parental intervention must be quick and decisive.
  • shutterstock_100040903.jpgWhen possible, let brothers and sisters settle their own differences. Sounds good but it can be terribly unfair in practice. Parents have to judge when it is time to step in and mediate, especially in a contest of unequals in terms of strength and eloquence (no fair hitting below the belt literally or figuratively). Some long-lasting grudges among grown siblings have resulted when their minority rights were not protected.
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