5 Things Parents Can Do to Squash Sibling Rivalry (page 2)
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- Managing Sibling Rivalry Between a Preschooler and an Older Child
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.
Understand Where They’re Coming From
As a parent, it’s also important to understand where the sibling rivalry stems from. Realize that parents are often stricter with their first child than with subsequent children, so when your older child says, “That’s not fair! I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late when I was his age!” he might actually have a point.
And when your younger child says, “You used to drag us to all of her volleyball games when I was little, but she never comes to mine,” she may not be exaggerating. That doesn’t mean that you have to change the way that you parent now – when you have less time, more stress, and resources spread more thinly among your children – but it means that you can empathize with your children a bit more easily when they start to compare.
Let Kids Express Their Emotions
Recognize that childhood is a time when social skills are not yet fully developed. “Kids are still learning how to control feelings, how to cope with their anger,” says Cassatly. “Nobody is going to get under your skin more than those who you spend the most time with. Getting angry, expressing frustration or impatience, and even talking about how much they resent having a sibling – all of these are not necessarily anything terrible.”
So when your child comes over to you and starts venting about a sibling, refrain from offering excuses or pointing out that both children share the blame. Instead, show them that you understand how they’re feeling. Hear them out, and allow them to share their frustration, no matter who you think is “really” at fault.
Help Kids Work It Out
There is nothing more exhausting than playing referee between your children. So instead of hearing both sides and passing judgment, Cassatly suggests letting your children work it out independently. Especially with younger children, you may want to give them some tools to help them problem solve: “You could take turns with the toy, or you could play with it together. Which do you think would work better?” When children get old enough to be able to resolve their problems fully on their own, you can tell them that they need to work out a solution between themselves and let you know what they’ve come up with.
This will prevent parents from becoming involved in most arguments, but not all of them. “When it comes to getting more physical, parents do need to intervene,” says Cassatly. You can also have some house rules, such as what happens if a child hits, or what happens if two children want the same object.
As much as possible, though, keep emotion out of the picture when it comes to resolving fights. Instead, focus on the positive. “Remind kids about the importance of siblings sticking together,” Cassatly suggests. “And realize that they do ultimately care about each other. Praise them when they do something nice to each other, when they act mature, or when they look out for each other.” In time, you’ll see your children working out their differences, helping each other out, and growing closer together.
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