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Know That Competition Can Be Healthy
“It’s not fair!” “She got more than me …You must love her more!”
Rest assured that these reactions are completely normal, as hard as they can be for parents to hear. “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.”
In fact, this type of competition can even be healthy. It can give children learning experiences that they’ll need for the playground, teaching them social skills, team sportsmanship and how to avoid being a sore loser.
It may seem 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 memories of your own sibling relationships growing up.
“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,” Cassatly says.
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 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 for an unbiased opinion. Ask your partner, your child’s teacher or your child care provider.
Understand Where They’re Coming From
As a parent, it’s important to understand where the sibling rivalry stems from.
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.
This doesn’t mean you have to change the way you parent now—when you have less time and more stress—but it means that you can empathize with your children a bit more easily when they start to compare.
Let Kids Express Their Emotions
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.
With younger children, give them some tools to help them solve problems. Offer a suggestion such as “You could take turns with the toy, or you could play with it together. Which do you think would work better?” 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 says. “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.