YIIIIKKKES….! You are the meanest brother in the WORLD!
I honestly believed that sibling rivalry was something that happened to other people’s children.
My kids, 23 months apart, have been best of buddies – more often than not. And the ongoing summer break has certainly tested their love i.e. just to put it mildly. Three weeks down and two more to go, vacation time spent mostly in each other’s presence, has turned out to be sorting flying tempers. Fighting madness. And screaming. Also crying. And wading away against mortal ‘war-like’ situations.
But we, as parents know sibling relationships are very special. Brothers and sisters may not hit it off together at all times, but do play very positive roles in each other lives, even long after they grow up. They learn their first lessons about conducting oneself in front of others from one another. They are playmates, friends, and keepers of secrets.
The intensity, savagery or never ending arguments may make your life miserable at times, but instead of worrying, we can think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they’d need to nurture caring relationships – and find the best chance of being lifelong friends.
Understanding the Trouble Spots
The age difference between your children determines in how you treat them and in how well they get along. For instance, when you hug and shower love on your toddler more than your school going child, your older one may think that you love him/her more.
Similarly, many parents find siblings of the same sex compete with each other more than with opposite-sex siblings.
Sibling rivalry between children under 4 years of age is at its worst especially if the spacing between them is less than three years – as both are vying for their parent’s attention and are self-centered.
Sometimes, if the age difference is more, the older one accepts and protects the younger child. Once the younger one grows, and develops skills and talents of his own, however, the elder sibling may feel “shown up” or “let down” in ways more than one.
In other cases, younger siblings of teens may resent the older one’s freedoms and privileges, and older ones may not want to watch over their younger siblings.
What Parents can do to Manage Conflict between Siblings
Whenever you find situations heating up beyond normal, adult intervention might turn out helpful.
1. Treat both children fairly. What is important here is not that we treat a two year old and a seven year old both exactly the same, but that the kids believe that the differential treatment for each of them is fair. A toddlers needs for instance, are not the same as a school-age child and it is up to the parents to explain it to them. What matters though when kids agree with what parents decide to agree for each of them.
2. Be Warm. When treating heated situations, keep your warmth quotient in check. Children are very sensitive to parent’s attention and impending warmth if they feel that the warmth towards the other relative to his brother/sister has decreased. This can affect your kid’s happiness and their relationship with their brother and sister.
3. Do not Compare. And let each one know that. It is natural to notice differences between your children, and you may unconsciously praise one more than another. Just try not to comment on these in front of them as it is very easy for a child to think that he is not good enough or as loved as his sibling. Remember, each child is special in his/her own ways.
4. Hold both kids responsible for their behaviour. In many cases, when one child starts a quarrel or start teasing another, the other retorts back, which again starts a volley of teasing and name-calling. As long as you think one is not overtly responsible, it is better to hold both your kids accountable. Do not take sides. You can call for a ‘cease-fire’. Set up a rule that if fighting happens, then both won’t get to watch TV, or have to go to bed half-an-hour early. After all it takes two to tango.
5. Think twice before intervening. Especially if they are teenagers. It is okay to emotionally coach on their reactions, separately. But, once kids reach adolescence, we need to be mindful of what we say to them, how we react or respond. Positive interactions right from childhood minimizes conflict and de-escalates frustrating episodes by the time kids reach their teens.
6. Give more positive experiences. In play, or otherwise, encourage situations where positive interactions between siblings outweigh negative ones. This helps siblings to lay a life-long bond.
7. Respect your child’s privacy. When it is necessary to take the path of punishment or scolding, do it with the child alone, in a private place. Do not embarrass one in front of the other. This will also allow the sibling to tease the one you punished at a later opportune time.
Finally, use your time spent together as a family to express and learns values of love, respect and mutual consideration for each other. This way you are giving them the biggest gift – the gift of being a lifelong friend.
We would be happy to have your thoughts in the below comments on how to improve sibling relationships.