Magazine article Work & Family Life

Some New Approaches to Managing Sibling Rivalry

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Some New Approaches to Managing Sibling Rivalry

Article excerpt

Few things upset parents as much as conflict among their children. Constant wrangling can be loud, time-consuming and emotionally draining. At the same time, it makes us worry that our kids won't be close when they grow up.

The feelings, thoughts and behaviors commonly associated with the term "sibling rivalry" are actually a part of every child's development, including only children.

At the heart of sibling rivalry is a set of profound and universal questions: Am I truly, absolutely loved? Am I wanted? Am I special? Am I powerful? Will my parents stop loving me if they start to love that other kid? Why can't I do what I see that person doing? Why can't I get what I see that person getting?

Is the cup full or empty

The image of the empty cup is useful to keep in mind when thinking about siblings. A child's cup is emptied by being hungry, tired, lonely or hurt. He returns to his caregiver to get it refilled by being loved, fed, comforted, nurtured and understood.

The most typical manifestation of sibling rivalry is competition for these refills. Older siblings watch the baby get endless fill-ups just for burping, looking cute or fussing. When this happens, they look at their own cup and the level seems to be low. Later on, the younger sibling may feel as if the older one is getting all the refills: a later bedtime, more privileges, a real bike.

In fact, much sibling rivalry can be seen as trying to steal a refill from the other child's cup-by taking a toy, making her cry, winning a competition or getting him in trouble. We have to understand that many children fear that their siblings' refills will come out of their cup, so we need to let them know there's enough love for everyone to get a refill, even if a new sibling or some other big event slows down the flow a bit.

When there is conflict among children, many parents think they have to choose between stepping in with a solution or stepping out of the picture completely. There are actually a number of in-between resources we can offer.

Encourage and inspire confidence In order for children to create their own effective solutions, we can't just say "work it out" and leave the room. Yet we also can't jump in too soon with the answers.

Encouraging children without butting in too much is a delicate balancing act. I often say things like: "I'm sure you guys can work this out. Anyone have any ideas?" Or I may propose a half solution: "Everyone has to be included. How are you going to manage that?" Or "Mark is really upset about this. What are you going to do to make it right?" instead of "say, you're sorry" or "it was an accident, he didn't mean it."

Children develop confidence that they can figure things out on their own, as long as they can count on our support. They may end up with the same solutions we would have chosen, but it's different when they do it. Their solutions are more creative, their apologies more sincere and their compromises more acceptable to everyone. Give kids lots of love and affection Sometimes that's all we need to do. If we fill their cups in the most basic way (a hug, a cuddle, a story, a kind word, some special time together, their favorite foods), they will figure out the rest. And sometimes tenderness and warmth are needed before brainstorming solutions to solve a problem.

Children also need to give love and affection, not just receive it. In addition to loving us, kids can play out this need with dolls, younger siblings, friends and pets. Some boys have fewer chances for this kind of loving and nurturing except, perhaps, with pets. It's harder for them to express emotion with friends without being teased, so they poke, pound and put each other down. …

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