Saturday, July 10, 2010


I got a question today from a reader about sibling rivalry.

Can I just say YAY and thank you!?!? And I love that you even used the little button on the top of the page to do it. :)

So, being as I have a herd of children, I've had a fair amount of experience with sibling rivalry. It's one of those unpleasant realities in life. As soon as you have more than one kid, it is absolutely, 100% inevitable. It just is.

Sure, there are things you can do to make it worse. Things you can do to make it better. But you can't ever make it go away. It just is.

I'd like to make the argument, though, that it is better to have siblings than not. Not just for children when they are children, but for children when they become grown ups. For all kinds of reasons, having a sibling is just a good thing.

Sibling rivalry is one of those things that evolves with children as they age and mature. It ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes. Sometimes it seems to be virtually nonexistent. Other times it seems a constant, nagging force in the universe, persistent and cruel and unfair, dictating everything about their relationship with one another.

Not that I claim to be an expert by any means on the subject of parenting, I have learned some things along the way. I haven't parented teenagers yet, particularly of the female variety, so I know that I will learn many more lessons in the years to come.

Having said that, I am a sibling. I have a brother. Save the 16 months and 9 days at the beginning of my life, I've never been an only.

Here is what I've learned so far.

* You cannot treat children the same. The reason for this is that they are all so very different from one another. What you can do, however, is treat them fairly. It takes practice. A lot of practice. It really is all about perception. Fairness cannot be measure in dollars, minutes or rewards. It's more abstract than that. Again, it's about perception.

* Older children get more privileges and responsibilities. Not because you love them more or like them better. Because they are older. Period. Realize that the more kids you have, the more relaxed you will be about time frames for things with the younger ones.

* Younger children get more attention from mom and dad because they need it. Babies and toddlers aren't functioning independent people. Older kids might not like this reality, but it is what it is.

* Share or put it away. This goes for just about everything. If you bring something out into the common areas of the house, the expectation is that you will share. If you do not want to, go play in your room.

* Each parent needs to have some special bond with each child, independent and away from the others. Whether you have two kids or six, you need to do this. It gets hard when a parent and a child have nothing really in common. This is where you, as the conscious adult, need to find something. Whether it's a hobby, a sport, a craft, a chore, a trip, you need to find something. Then you need to do it. Not just try. Do it. Wishes and hopes and promises are negative in the eyes of a child unless they are fulfilled.

* Spending special time with each child needs to keep happening, even when there aren't obvious tensions between the kids. When the ones not included feel excluded, reassure them that you will have your time with them soon. And stick to it.

* Try not to compare the kids to each other. They are different, and any comparisons just set them up for conflict. Never ever use words like, "Your sister doesn't do this", or "your brother was younger than you when he...". It is one thing to reference their behavior with your expectations for their age or grade, but another to hold them up against one another.

* Give them their own space, and let them use it. My girls shared a room out of necessity for a little while. It was a horrible mistake. They couldn't be more different than night and day. It was bad for everyone in the house when they shared the same four walls. We sacrificed our home office and bonus room to give each of the kids their own room. If you truly have no other options but sharing, make sure to set clear boundaries. What must be shared, what may be kept separate. Ensure that each child gets personal alone time without being bothered by the other.

* Vice Versa. If your kids are engaged in any kind of sports or activities, the others will inevitably spend lots of idle time waiting and watching. Make sure the waiters and watchers aren't always the same kids. Give each child opportunities to participate, and make all of them take turns with idle time. Teach them to watch each other, to cheer for each other's teams, to be interested in what the others are doing.

* Let them sort out their own disputes. Really. Micromanaging is exhausting and pointless. Worry about the big stuff. Set general rules about arguing. For instance, I have a rule that if they can't agree to take turns on the swings, everyone is off the swings for ten minutes. I don't stand there and time them, telling them when to switch.

* Help them help each other. A little sibling might be able to reach something under a cabinet, an older one might be able to sound out big words better. Encourage them to ask one another for help, they will surprise you.

* Don't expect too much from anyone. They are kids. No matter how old they are, they will have times when they don't listen, get moody, and so on. Again, it just is.

* Worry more about teaching them kindness towards one another than anything else.

* Realize that acting out, including towards siblings, might be a cry for attention. Your kids are most assuredly not being bad just for the sake of being bad. Negative attention is attention none the less, and kids often resort to that when nothing else works.

* Understand that no matter what you do, there will always be issues between them.

Even with all the conflict, it is worth it. Even if there are days that you are convinced that they will grow up to hate one another, chances are better that they won't.

Without siblings, we would all be on a journey through life as the only child of our parents. And that's a journey I know that I wouldn't want to take.

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