Oh brother! How To Handle Sibling Rivalry…
Sibling rivalry has existed as long as families. Think back to Biblical times and Joseph’s problems with his brothers, or of the horrible time Cinderella had with her stepsisters!
In some cases, right from the moment a younger child is born a sense of rivalry is evident, with one or more child feeling the need to fight for the attention of a parent or nanny; or be more successful at certain games or classes, whether they have been given any real need to or not. Other siblings develop this later on, when school, sport and activities become more a part of life, and of course, there are lucky families where there is no sign of any of this at all.
Of course, each child is born with a natural rite of passage to find their niche within the family dynamic. We usually expect this to happen fairly naturally, and even if we do everything we can to encourage individuality and peaceful relationships, this doesn’t always run as smoothly as we would like. We tend to think that children are blank canvases in many ways, but just like adults, they have personality traits unique to them and which can clash with those of others.
Spending most of their time with their siblings in the early years, it doesn’t take much to work out that this can be where these clashes start to occur. According to child psychologist Sylvia Rimm, sibling rivalry is particularly intense when children are very close in age and of the same gender, or where one child is intellectually gifted.
So how do we deal with siblings who see themselves as opponents in some way? And how do we make sure that sibling rivalry doesn’t develop into a horrible case of adult envy? Whether it starts in early childhood or later on, here are our top tips:
- Avoid ‘labelling’ – it’s a difficult task praising one child whilst trying not to make another feel left out, but try not to use labels for each child, e.g ‘the sporty one’ or ‘the naughty one’. You can bet your life that the siblings of each of these will automatically feel like the total opposite, i.e. bad at sports and therefore inferior, or more well behaved and therefore superior. Labels simply add fuel to the fire of sibling rivalry.
- Look at your own relationship – what example are you showing your children? Do they witness you and your partner rowing or criticising each other? If this is the case, you can’t expect your children not to do the same. They see this behaviour as normal, and are confused if you pull them up on it whilst doing the same thing and getting away with it. Don’t show your child how to be a hypocrite – try to put more positivity into your own relationship and you’ll see a change in theirs.
- Encourage teamwork – by encouraging siblings to work together projects, you’ll increase the strength of the bond between them. Try to set them a little task every day together, which takes concentration and will hold their interest. If it’s time to put toys away, set the clock and get them both to race against it, instead of against each other. For sporty older kids set up a football game where they play together against other children on the street. Get ‘girlie’ sisters to create a beauty therapy centre at home where they both give you equal amounts of treatments together, meaning they get the best of your attention and help each other at the same time. The chances are they’ll get so engrossed in doing these tasks right that they’ll be on each others side for a while afterwards.
- Show them the difference between fairness and equality – if a younger child is upset because the older one gets to stay up longer, explain that this is fair because of the age difference. They are still equal, and remind the younger one of fair privileges that they get for being younger, for example not having as much homework to do. If they can grasp this and be reminded of it, you’ll hopefully hear less of the old ‘it’s not fair!’ from now on!
- Set aside “alone time” for each child. This is so important. Whether you’re a nanny or a parent, make sure you set at least a few minutes most days for one on one time. It’s amazing how much even 10 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time can mean to a child, and this can be a perfect time to encourage the child to talk to you about the things that they love about their brother or sister, whilst giving them the praise and attention that they need themselves.
These guidelines will hopefully help to make life easier for parents or nannies looking after siblings with difficulties. If you feel that there is more of a deep seated issue, it may be worth contacting a child psychologist who will be able to help further.
Do you agree with our ideas here? Either way, we welcome your comments on our blog and of course via our very active Facebook page …