How Parents Can Use Sibling Rivalry to Their Advantage

In public my three older children were a perfect display of harmonious coexistence. They were polite to each other, held hands when crossing streets and even engaged in conversation. Once behind the closed front door of our home the amiability used to come to a screeching halt. The arguments would start. I could not understand how such well mannered children could not get along. It was hard to keep peace in my home with the constant tattling, bickering, teasing and fighting. I used to console myself with the knowledge that sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up and that they would eventually grow out of it. In reality there are still some people out there that are still involved in some form or the other of sibling rivalry. I decided finally to do some thing about it; to make it work for me. I used and continue to use sibling rivalry to teach my children valuable life lessons.

There are many reasons for sibling rivalry: age, gender, child spacing are some of them. What it boils down to is that sibling rivalry results in jealousy and competition that continues throughout childhood.

�Handling the relationships life throws at you
For the most part we do not choose our siblings or our parents. In life outside the home we don’t choose who our classmates are in school or in some instances who our workmates are. Socially, in world with a mish mash of personalities, we are all somehow expected to get along. The training for this endeavor should start at home. Just as the world is made up of different personalities, children within a home have different personalities. You cannot expect the children to react the same way to similar situations. I constantly remind my children of this. Explain to your children that sometimes putting ourselves in another’s shoes (figuratively and literally) can help us understand each other better. We have had many role playing games to prove that point.

�Resolving Conflict
Watching my children bicker, argue and try and figure out ways to resolve their differences can be aggravating and also humbling. I used to only hear the noise and ugliness, but since I changed my approach I now hear the beginnings of children learning conflict resolution.

Let your children settle their differences on their own. Stay nearby incase you need to mediate. Do NOT take sides; you never will know or understand the whole story. It is important to act fairly. Talk to your children offering suggestions on handling the conflicts as they arise. For example you can teach the children how to live with teasing by methods of rising above the teasing like agreeing with the teaser.

Teaching the children to listen to each other is a tough one. When emotions are high everyone wants to be heard. This though is an important lesson. Stay close by and if you sense there is no resolution, intervene and act as a mediator without taking sides. The listening issue is mostly taught by example. Listen to your children and have them listen to you; take turns practicing.

�Understanding Emotions
A child has little understanding of the emotions rushing through them. Help them to put a name and voice to their feelings. A good example to use is anger. Allow your children to express their anger openly; using words (not harsh words). Explain to them that there is nothing wrong with being angry, it is perfectly natural. Point out the right and wrong responses to anger. Acting out, hitting, throwing toys, screaming is not acceptable. Same goes for the other emotions of sadness, jealousy and confusion.

âÂ?Â?Life’s Hierarchy
A child’s understanding of hierarchy in the home is affected by the stage of development they are in. With the birth of a new sibling younger children feel threatened and older siblings feel empowered. The new sibling gets more attention and a younger child feels replaced. These feeling are natural and a child can’t be held accountable for feeling left out. Deliberately make an effort to actively involve the child in taking care of the new sibling; giving them a new and important position. In life you have to learn transitions; some good and some not so good.

A younger child doesn’t understand that a baby needs constant attention. A pre-school age child doesn’t understand the freedom bestowed on an older sibling. Sometimes as they get older, children feel that they are being treated unfairly either by their parents or by their other siblings. This leads to feeling of resentment towards the sibling they feel is getting preferential treatment. If this is the case, take the time out to explain to the child the importance of their role in the family and alleviate their misunderstanding. Give the child more “responsibility”. A younger child may become jealous towards an older sibling who has seemingly more privileges, enlighten the child on the special things they enjoy being younger.

�Team playing
Instead of fueling the sibling rivalry, teach your children ways to be better themselves by joining forces to achieve a common goal. If they clean their toys together they can move on to other things quicker, than leaving the burden on one. Playing together can be more fun than playing alone.

I constantly remind myself that as a parent I should stay in control; manage my own anger by not yelling. I cannot expect the children to learn if I cannot lead by example. Importantly, keep the lecturing at a minimum; a child’s attention span is extremely short. Remember each child is unique and wants to be seen as so. If you compare your children, they may end up feeling lesser than they really are. Give them the self confidence they require to face the challenges life has to offer.

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