My kids are older now and we have entered the “golden years” of parenting. This is the phase when kids are old enough to be independent yet young enough that they still want to be around you. While we are well past the potty training stage, and days filled with endless mind numbing games of Chutes and Ladders, there is one parenting challenge that seems worse now than ever before…
Most experts agree that sibling rivalry stems from jealousy. When I was pregnant with my second baby, I read somewhere that the root of sibling rivalry is an underlying desire for the exclusive love of one’s parents. This made complete sense to me so I followed through with the suggestions to have the baby give the older sibling a gift, spend time with my oldest when my youngest was napping, and allowed our oldest to have a few toys that he didn’t have to share with the baby. And those suggestions worked for us but as our kids have grown, I have realized that I need new strategies.
My kids have always been physical with each other (I expected that with two boys) but the ‘fighting with words’ and bickering seemed to reach a peak this summer. There is nothing like a long road trip to bring out the best in the family dynamics. This is just a glimpse of what was heard from the front seat:
“Mom, he’s breathing too loud, make him STOP!”
“Mom, he took MY headphones, I need new headphones RIGHT NOW. I don’t want HIS ear germs!”
And my favorite “Mom, he is looking out MY window. This is MY side of the van.”
For me, sibling rivalry has been one of the biggest challenges I have encountered in my motherhood journey, partly because I had unrealistic visions of them being the best of buddies with each other, but mostly because I truly felt unequipped to handle it. So this summer I made it a priority to increase the feeling of brotherhood in our home, hoping this would ultimately improve their relationship and lead to less fighting. I am not a parenting expert, but here a few things I did that have seemed to help.
- Search for good role models of siblings in the media or from history. For example, my boys like sports, so we have checked out books at the library on Peyton and Eli Manning. Those two are openly supportive of each other, respectful of their individual talents, and yet still engage in friendly competition. This doesn’t mean that we idolize them, but it has been fun to search out brothers who have a strong bond and embrace brotherhood.
- Encourage them to serve one another. Sometimes I spend so much time making sure that my kids feel loved by me, that I forget they need to feel loved by each other. My youngest son fills my older son’s water bottle before every football practice since he has more homework right now. This little gestures goes a long way in making the other person feel cared for and special.
- Vow to stop making comparisons. Comparisons usually leads to resentment between kids and makes one kid feel lousy and one feel superior. I try to treat each child uniquely, not necessarily equally. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my kids have said “that’s not fair” and I quickly remind them they are right, unfortunately life is not fair. It’s probably best they learn this lesson now, rather than later.
- Celebrate the achievements of all your children. When they are playing sports, I tell them “I love to watch you play,” and when they work hard at school, I praise their efforts regardless of the outcome. We try to have our boys cheer for each other too, whether on the sidelines of a sporting event or when they are mastering a new skill (such as bike riding or shoe tying). And since I am the youngest sibling in my family – birth order is legit – I know how important it is to celebrate each milestone for each kid, not just those of the oldest child.
- Seek activities that require cooperation. We just got a new puppy and the boys are responsible for bathing him and feeding him. Because its a preferred activity (they both LOVE that dog) their interactions usually go smoother. Sharing a common goal, especially a fun one, has been helpful for both of them.
Another parenting tip I have learned along the way is to give consequences if the fighting is excessive. When I was growing up, my parents used to make my sister and I sit back-to-back for an hour if we weren’t getting along (did anyone else have to endure this?). While this created laughable memories, it probably wasn’t the most effective consequence in terms of changing my behavior. I used to think my kids needed a break from each other when they couldn’t get along, but a wise friend of mine will not let her children have friends over or play with the neighbors if they can’t get along with each other. Brilliant!
I have heard people say that ultimately sibling rivalry is a good thing because it teaches kids how to negotiate and handle conflict resolution, two things that come in handy when you are navigating this world as an adult. I agree these are excellent outcomes…as long as they don’t kill each other first, and some days it honestly feels like that just may happen.
One thing I value here at TCMB is learning from our readers…are you experiencing Sibling Rivalry in your house? I would love to hear what strategies you have utilized to take your kids from sibling rivalry to sibling revelry.