If you have more than one child, you probably know that sibling rivalry goes with the territory. Of course, the fact that it’s almost inevitable doesn’t make it any less annoying. If you’ve dreamed of raising best friends but find yourself parenting Cain and Abel instead, read on.
“It’s natural for kids to compare themselves to their siblings,” says Stacey DeBroff, founder of momcentral.com. Parents loom large in the lives of their children, and deep in the heart of every child lurks the fear that mom or dad might love one child more. Your job as a parent is not only to provide reassurance that this isn’t so, but also to step back and let them establish their own relationship.
First, the reassurance. Make it clear that your love is unconditional and is based on your children’s status as unique and irreplaceable individuals, not on their behavior or accomplishments. When kids perceive parental love as a reward it can fuel competition and insecurity.
“Comparisons among siblings only serve to make one child feel bad or less loved, and to intensify an already inherently competitive relationship,” says DeBroff. Categorizing kids (“Jack is good at sports, and Lucy is the smart one”) limits them both. Encourage your kids to do things they enjoy, whether or not they excel. Chuck may never be as good a painter as his brother Sam, but being saddled with a talented sibling shouldn’t mean he has to miss out on a pleasurable hobby.
The harder part for many parents is stepping back. You probably already know that your children are fighting for your attention, and when their squabbles force you to step in, they win. “Make it a family rule that as long as no blood has spilled and no one is about to get hurt, tattling is not allowed,” suggests DeBroff.
When one child complains about another, don’t get pulled into the middle. Listen empathetically. A comment like, “it sounds like you are really angry,” will go farther in diffusing tension than an impassioned defense of the offender. Talk about ways they can solve the disputes on their own, and let them do so.
If your children tend to fight over toys, give them each a “no sharing” box and let them fill it. Everything else is fair game. When it comes to television watching, dessert eating, and music selecting, make it clear that unless everyone plays nice, there won’t be any.
At the end of the day, you can’t force your kids to be friends – but you may be able to make them stop driving you crazy.
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together so You Can Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. A classic.