Children have a very special place in the world. They are uniquely positioned to be both teachable and independent. As a result of this unique dichotomy, adults bear the task of simultaneously recognising the importance of independence while instilling the value of teamwork. The greatest element of this challenge, possibly, is helping siblings to embrace the concept of co-existing while maintaining traits unique to themselves. But sometimes we end up doing the opposite and are responsible for sparking rivalry between our children.
How are sibling rivalries formed?
Children, especially siblings, learn very early how to separate and identify talents, interests, and passions unique to themselves. Let’s face it; siblings are in a constant battle for time, attention, affection, praise, and acknowledgment. Rather than compete head to head, they naturally gravitate towards interests that lead them away from their sibling competitors.
It usually looks something like this: Oldest child is extremely driven, smart, and academic. Second child realises that he or she will never live up to first born’s achievements, and therefore pursues music, art or sports. If there is a third child, he or she sees that academics and extracurricular activities are spoken for and therefore assumes the role of social butterfly or jokester and so on.
It is common for children to begin to resent the very qualities that make their siblings unique, because they are perceived as threats to their own success. In other words, roles within the family are assumed and labels become an expectation.
It is common for children to begin to resent the very qualities that make their siblings unique
An impression is formed, even in early childhood, that in order to be valued and appreciated, the child must find something that she or he is good at that no one else can challenge. And while there is nothing wrong with children having their own interests and pursuing their own talents, it is important to help siblings appreciate and embrace what makes each of them special.
How can we overcome sibling rivalry?
Here are some practical ways to cultivate peaceful co-existence in children:
Collaboration on tasks
There is nothing more effective in helping children to see their siblings’ strengths than having them work together on a project. The task should be something that requires thinking, planning and execution. It can be explained that each child brings a unique perspective and skill set to the problem, and everyone must contribute. The tasks will need to be adjusted based on age-appropriateness, but an adult can point out strengths of each child throughout the task. “I noticed that Mihir thought to use the stick to prop that open, and then Samata’s hands were small enough to fit inside.”
Offering each child their own day of the week
Every child loves feeling recognised and special for any reason. Implement a 'Child of the Day' policy, where decisions and choices are made by that child. Not only does this give each child a chance to express their preferences and interests in a family setting, but siblings are not likely to resent participating when they have the same opportunity on another day of the week.
Options for the child to decide upon might be what activity the family does before dinner, what type of vegetable is eaten for dinner, or what TV show is watched before bed.
Implement a 'Child of the Day' policy, where decisions and choices are made by that child
Another simple way to encourage siblings to see special traits in each other is to have them share qualities about each other simultaneously. In other words, to recognise a strength about themselves, as well as a strength about their sibling. This creates a realisation that being different is welcomed, and each person brings a special element to the family. “I am good at football. Tina is good at roller skating.” Then Tina says, “I am good at math. Rashmi is good at dancing.”
Children need to be exposed to and taught principles of sharing, giving and helping. There is no better way to help children see the effects of cooperation and collaboration first-hand than to experience it as a family. This may mean volunteering your time together at an animal shelter, helping an elderly neighbour complete a task, or sharing your time and talents with others. Take time after the experience to talk about why those are values that you believe in as a family.
One of the things that we often forget as adults is that children need to hear what we expect from them. Setting expectations and being clear on which behaviours are desired and which are prohibited is crucial, even though it seems obvious! A family meeting to talk about the importance of supporting and embracing the unique qualities that each member of the family possesses allows for a climate of cooperation to grow.
With a little creativity and some purposeful activities to encourage children to embrace each other and their special qualities, the days of sibling rivalry, competition, jealousy and resentment can be left behind. Cooperation and co-existence are attainable, especially when there are direct expectations and opportunities to practise those values. After all, we all desire to be valued and appreciated for the things that make us unique, and the members of our family are among those who can celebrate us the most.
This was first published in the August 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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