Ahh, siblings. Your sisters and brothers may be your first friends…and your first enemies. Sibling rivalry is so powerful that it may even affect the roles that we take in a family, and the careers we choose for ourselves in the adult world. For example, due to competition with our siblings, what we pick for our life’s passion may be in direct opposition of our brothers’ and sisters’ choices.
As the holidays approach, sibling rivalry has the potential to escalate to a whole new level. So what can you, as parents, do about it?
Here are some suggestions I have shared with parents over the years to help ease and manage sibling rivalry between children.
- Avoid favoritism. Even though there are times in all of our lives when one child is easier than the other, or that we see something of ourselves or our partner in one child or the other, discipline yourself not to show any signs of outward favoritism.
- Parents must parent. This means to step into your adult and even override exhaustion to give each child some private time with Mom and Dad.
- Don’t make your children share their toys. I can hear the ooh’s and ahh’s out there, but what belongs to your children is their possession and only if it is their choice to share, should it be brought into a common area.
- Never discount, demean, or embarrass your children. Never tell them to be a big girl or boy, to act grown-up, or to be understanding. They are children and they have feelings too. Instead, confirm their feelings with sentences such as, “of course, you feel this way, I understand completely.” Empathy goes a long way towards cooperation.
- Try not to compare your children, their grades, their behavior, or the way they look.No competition, ever. No family games where one can win and one can lose. This is a family and not a sports arena, and children should be raised in collaboration, not competition. Never tell one child you love that child better than the other because they are behaving better. This is a form of splitting that can turn one child against the other forever.
- Never discuss one child with the other. You don’t like it when someone talks behind your back; follow the same courteous behavior with your children.
- Don’t manipulate. Manipulation is humiliation and makes your children feel undervalued and they will not trust you, themselves, or others if you diminish their self-esteem.
- Be fair. This is one of the most essential rules. Your child is watching you and is very cognizant of even-handedness, which, in his mind, translates to being loved equally.
- Practice and rehearse communication through listening. Let your children tell you how they feel. If you listen with empathy, they will tell you everything, and together you can find ways to problem-solve. Invest your children in the process.
- Finally, be prepared for large family gatherings. When holidays, birthdays, and other family gatherings are coming up, think ahead and find ways as a family to lay out some ground rules – a plan that can help nip in the bud any of the regular stressful sibling rivalry patterns with which you as a family are familiar, and can handle with love.