Sibling rivalry. If you have more than one child, you’ve experienced it. During childhood, siblings share everything. They share daily life; they fight, have fun, annoy and love each other, too. As the mom on the TV show Sisters said, “Who is there for you from cradle to grave — your sisters!”
As adults our lives have shown us over and over again that blood is thicker than water. Children, on the other hand, want what they want, and think siblings just get in the way!
A Trial Run for Future Adult Relationships
All parents hope to raise children who will play well together, stand up for each other and become each other’s life long friend.
The truth is, sibling rivalry allows children to learn how to work out intense emotions with someone who is an equal. It’s sort of like a trial run for future adult and business relationships.
During childhood, siblings learn how mean words and actions impact others. They learn about giving in, even when they don’t want too. They learn what it feels like to be compassionate. And what it feels like when someone isn’t compassionate with them.
I believe the outcome of sibling rivalry depends more on a child’s personality than anything else. Here’s a good example.
I know a family with four boys who fought every single day. They were very physical with each other. They’d fight until blood was drawn or someone broke something. There was no way to predict what their relationship would turn out to be. It turned out that two of them are the best of friends, and two of them are the worst of enemies.
Three Tips for Making Sibling Rivalry Beneficial
Every parent really wants a magic key to stop the sibling wars, but there isn’t one. I suggest parents change the way they look at sibling rivalry. If parents can shift their thinking from believing they’re in charge of breaking up fights, to realizing that the rivalry is an opportunity to teach skills for their future, they’ll experience less frustration. With that in mind, here are three ways to help you make the shift in thinking.
1. Help Them Work it Out Themselves
Instead of deciding who’s right and who’s wrong, teach children how to resolve their own differences with your help. What they learn now will become the basis for how they will resolve adult and business issues later.
Always help the kids learn to work things out versus resorting to punishment or sending them to another room to figure it out. Turn to one child and ask, “What do you want to say about this?” Then turn to the other child and ask the same question. After the children have stated their points of view, ask each one, “What can you do to make this situation better?” This teaches them that it takes two to create an issue, and two to resolve it.
2. Feelings Count
Children often say, “But I didn’t mean to.” They need to know that those words don’t excuse their actions. Whether they meant to, or not, their actions hurt or upset another person, and that means they have to genuinely say, “I’m sorry.”
3. Don’t Compare Your Kids
Don’t compare your children. When a child is born they take a place, a slot in the family. When the second child comes along, the slot the first one took is gone. The second child unconsciously senses that and becomes something different. If one child is a slow eater, the other is a fast eater. If one always listens, the other may not listen as easily. If one likes ketchup, the other one likes mustard. Children want to be unique and seen for the individuals that they are. My kids were no different.
Both my kids are talented artists; of course I’m biased. When they were little, Tall, my older one, used pencils as his medium. Taller, my younger one, would never draw in any medium because he felt his brother had already taken the “artist” slot. When Taller’s teacher introduced him to watercolors, he said, “I’m not like Tall any more, he draws and I paint!” He was able to see himself as separate from his brother, which stopped the many, many sibling rivalry issues around artwork.
The next time you’re dealing with a sibling argument, whether it’s about sharing or something else, see if changing the way you look at the situation creates less frustration for you. Try seeing the sibling rivalry as an opportunity for your children to learn some skills they’ll need for their future.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.