5 Things Parents Can Do to Squash Sibling Rivalry
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When you had a second child, you probably figured that you were giving your first child a great present. Years down the road, however, you’re starting to second guess yourself. After all, your kids are constantly at each other’s throats, tattling on each other, and competing with each other. What happened to the best friends you thought you’d be raising? According to Jennifer Cassatly, a clinical psychologist who works with children and their parents, they might be right under your nose.
Know That Competition Can Be Healthy
If you feel like you’re constantly hearing variations on “It’s not fair!” or “She got more than me…You must love her more!” rest assured that these reactions are completely normal, as hard as it can be for parents to hear it. “From the time younger siblings are born, they’re looking up to their older siblings and mimicking sibling behaviors,” says Cassatly.
“Kids spend more time with their siblings than anyone else, including their parents. So some competition isn’t unhealthy; seeing what other children do and wanting to mimic them helps children to learn.” Younger siblings will compare their own privileges with those of their older siblings, children in general will try to excel in an area that their siblings have struggled in, and all of that is completely normal.
In fact, it could be that this type of competition is even healthy. It can give them learning experiences that they’ll need for the playground, teaching them social skills, team sportsmanship, and how to avoid being a sore loser. Sure, at the time it seems like they’re practicing terrible sportsmanship, but with time, they’ll understand when they’re getting carried away and when their bantering is just a fun way of bonding with each other.
Be Honest With Yourself
Watching your children compete with each other may bring to memories of your own sibling relationships growing up. “Our expectations or hopes for children sometimes influence how we label sibling relationships – as “normal sibling rivalry” or as unnecessarily aggressive,” explains Cassatly. “One way to better understand your perception of your children's relationships is to sit down and reflect on your own experiences. Then think about how your children's experiences are similar and dissimilar.”
Are your past sibling experiences coloring the way you’re treating your children’s sibling rivalry? Did you always have to give into your young sibling? Did your older sibling always exclude you? Even if you didn't’t have siblings, did you always dream of what it would be like if you did?
If you’re not sure whether your childhood relationships are impacting the way you see your children’s interactions, consider speaking with an objective observer and seeing whether she sees it differently. Talking with your partner might also give you some insights into whether you’re seeing your children’s sibling rivalry as it really is. You might also try speaking with your child’s teacher or child-care provider, or with family members or mentors, in order to get a less biased view of the situation.
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