Siblings and sibling rivalry are often hot topics of discussion amongst parents. Every parent is constantly looking for ways to help their children overcome this issue. Sibling rivalry may stem from various reasons: academic achievements, personal reasons, and, as I recently witnessed: from parents.
In this article I will share how parents unknowingly encourage sibling rivalry, how to create healthy competition and friendship, as well as a special tip for fostering cooperation and kindness among your children.
Are You Comparing Your Children?
At a Diwali party last week, after stuffing ourselves with too many appetizers, the hosts started the ‘introduce yourselves circle’ where each family introduces themselves to the rest of the group as many were meeting for the first time. As one particular family’s turn came, the mother described her two daughters as such: “This is my eldest daughter. She is a friendly child and a top-scorer at school…and this is my younger daughter. She is very shy and studying is always the last thing on her mind.” Her comment drew chuckles from the crowd, but my heart went out to the poor child who had just been ridiculed in front of a huge crowd. As the party went on, I noticed the ridiculed child keeping to herself and the top-scorer child with several friends. I could not help but wonder if this was the start of a sibling rivalry caused by a parent?
A top rule for parents should be not to foster comparisons. As tempting as it may be to get your poor performer to model himself on his top-scoring sibling, don’t compare. Comparisons can really intensify a rivalry. Your job is to help your child do his best. If he brings home a C+ over his regular C-, it calls for praise and reward. Food for thought: Would you not throw a fit if your spouse compared your cooking abilities to those of his friend’s wife? Teaching your children to respect each other’s achievements is a good way to foster friendship amongst siblings.
It’s Not All About Grades
If your less academically inclined child feels outshone by his sibling, encourage him in other areas. Encouraging him to develop his other talents will help him establish his own identity and boost his self-esteem versus him having to compete with his sibling on unfair grounds. This way, each child will have something to learn from the other. This gives more room to friendship rather than rivalry.
Remember to prioritize education rather than grades. Even if your children have different levels of intelligence, it’s important for you as a parent to consider all of them as intelligent. When you begin to expect all your children to be smart and appreciate challenge, they will actually be less competitive with each other.
No childhood is complete without some sibling rivalry. More than in the academic ground (young kids often turn a deaf ear when compared academically with their siblings or other kids), there is always some friction in the personal ground. While bickering is common and natural, it’s good to look out for issues that may grow bigger and alter a child’s personality in the long run. For example, all parents say that they love their children equally. My mum used to say that she loved me and my brother like her right and left eye. Which would you love more? But in truth, a parent always loves her children differently. Immensely and unconditionally yes; but almost always, differently.
With the youngest one automatically becoming the pet who gets away with murder, the oldest child is usually left carrying the burden of responsibility and blame. The little adorable baby that big brother always wanted soon becomes the object of rivalry. Such situations, if not corrected early enough, can lead to life-long rivalries. On the personal front, the older child will be wary and cautious in future relationships; while the younger one will always be in the habit of having his way.
A Special Tip: Fostering An Atmosphere of Cooperation and Kindness
A wonderful way for families to keep sibling rivalry to a minimum is to adopt something I once read about in a magazine. I did not have children then, but the idea seemed so simple I promised myself I’d use it when I had children of my own. In the magazine article, a parent of six (yes, six!) noticed that her children always seemed to be struggling with conflict. Instead of using the traditional method of parenting – lecture them about the rules, give them a smack or two, punish them – the tired parent thought of a more creative approach: documenting acts of kindness. Everyday, the children were required to look for kind acts happening around them. Each child was given a coloured paper on the fridge and soon there were long lists made. After being made aware of the acts of kindness around them, the children started to mirror these acts, creating a calmer atmosphere in the house. Reminding yourself of acts of kindness creates kindness in your heart.
With so much negativity stressed on sibling rivalry, many professionals believe that sibling rivalry is not all negative – in some cases it can lead to positive and healthy competition as well. Being competitive can bring out a child’s strengths when it comes to sports and other activities. A little coaxing to see if your child can beat his sibling’s score at a game of chess isn’t all bad.
There is always, however, a fine line that parents need to draw and maintain. There should never be competition in receiving a parent’s attention or love – some parents think it’s ‘effective parenting’ to display less affection to a child they are upset with and at the same time show extra love to the child’s sibling. Not only will the poor child start to dislike his sibling (who is an innocent party), the parents are probably next on the list too!
Parenting is a lifetime of learning for all parents too…so share your experiences with sibling rivalry in the comments.