3 tips to combat sibling rivalry

· Possibly the most volatile relationship of all. Siblings express the whole palette of emotions in the space of minutes. One minute they laugh and look like the best of friends - and the next they literally want to destroy each other. What is this about? And how can we as parents support this relationship? ·

Jul, 10, 2020

Witnessing your children getting on, laughing together and chatting as if they were the best of friends is possibly one of the best feelings in the world. For a moment, it feels like you’ve succeeded as a parent. This is what it’s all about it, isn’t it!?

I’m afraid to be the bearer of bad news. Or – perhaps – realistic news; but siblings were not meant to only ever get on! Love and hate, fight and laughter is all part and parcel of this relationship. They get to experience the whole spectrum of emotions in each other’s company.

To be able do this IS love and how siblings express their connection. Their sibling is the one person who won’t leave them no matter how immature, unreasonable or vulnerable they’ve been. And therefore, your children give each other a unique opportunity to come to know all parts of themselves better. Both the good and the not so socially acceptable ones.

But for us parents it can be hard to see our kids fight. Say mean things about each other or be deeply jealous of each other. The arrival of a new baby can turn the sweetest child into a pinching, pushing and mean green eyed monster.

So what can we do as parents to support this unique relationship? And what do we need to steer clear of in the way we interfere?

  1. Allow both the good and bad feelings to be expressed

Milo, 3 has just had a little sister and sits with her and mum and dad on the sofa. Mum and dad are looking lovingly at their new baby and trying to get her to smile. Suddenly little sister is in floods of tears – and dad angrily pulls Milo to one side.

“What on earth are you doing pinching? Don’t you know that she’s just a baby. Don’t be mean

The issue is not that Milo doesn’t know how to behave around a baby. Lecturing him on the importance of kindness is not going to help Milo tolerate his intense feelings of jealousy at this new person who’s come and stolen a lot of the attention that used to go to him.

Only being shown that jealousy is understandable and that mum and dad can accept that will help Milo to make sense of these big emotions that wash over him and makes him do things that he’s perfectly aware he shouldn’t be doing.

While mum settles baby sister dad could calmly pull Milo aside and remind him that he doesn’t want him to hurt her and say:

“I know you’re excited about being a big brother.
and I wonder if it sometimes feels like it would be nice if your babysister wasn’t here so you could have mum and I to yourself!?”

Merely pointing these conflicting feelings out to Milo will allow Milo to feel seen and acknowledged – and much more likely to mature and channel his jealousy in a acceptable ways. Milo doesn’t know what jealousy is until dad can help him make sense of what he’s feeling.

Give up expectations of your children always getting on – and know that their conflict isn’t a sign that they they won’t grow up to be friends.

2. Stop refereeing

“What’s going on? Who started this?”

When our children are at each other’s throats autopilot tends to take over and you might find yourself getting involved in ways that actually escalates and prolongs the conflict.

When we are concerned with ‘WHAT HAPPENED” we will likely have two children trying to convince us of their innocence. This approach doesn’t promote better problem solving skills and only serves to identify who’s right and who’s wrong. Something that makes playing together immediately afterwards – virtually impossible. The score will often be settled once you turn your back – and the child who had been asked to apologise will now have to apologise for hurting his sister…again.

Make it your point to interfere less and when you do – add what the situation needs:

“Do you need my help?”

Rather than assuming – ask. And if you can tell that you’re needed a way to get involved could be to help them to hear each other.

“I can see you both look upset. Let’s hear you both out – one at a time because I know you might see things very differently”

Rather than getting caught up in who did what – ask each of them what they were trying to do. Their intention is almost always good. You might find that one was trying to ask for something and the other wanted to be respected for not sharing it. When we can help them see what they were trying to say – and have them hear each other out – no one leaves as a winner or a looser.

3. Stop comparing

You might find that one of your children is more amenable than his sibling who will more likely dig his heels in, struggle to share or apologise. Tempting as it may be, no amount of shaming your more wilful child for his stubbornness or drawing comparisons to his more cooperative sibling, will ultimately bring about any positive change.

Comparisons, like being concerned with who’s to blame, only gives rise to feelings of right or wrong – which drives your children further apart.
The better able we are to validate each of our children, see them for who they are – and show empathy for where they still have some growing to do – the better they can feel about themselves. And the more likely they can respect each other for their differences too.

Louise Brooks

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