The old (and slightly strange) Vietnamese proverb may proclaim that “Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet”, but sometimes that proximity can lead to a seemingly constant family war. Siblings often swing wildly from love to hate from a daily basis, with the most tempestuous relationships usually occurring during childhood. While you may ultimately be raising friends for life, there is not getting away from the fact that raising more than one child can be hard work. Sometimes really hard work. So how do you reduce the rivalry and foster a lifelong bond that will survive long after you are no longer around? There are five main tips to consider:
1.Don’t Compare – Ever
Comparison is perhaps the most dangerous mistake parents can make. For those of you with siblings, how many times did you hear “why can’t you be good, like your sister?” or “your brother is so much easier than you!”? How did it make you feel? Not only can comparison drive a wedge between parent and child relationships, it can also cause animosity between siblings. Labelling children can have similar unexpected negative consequences. Be careful not to label children as “the naughty one”, “the quiet one”, “the easy one” and so on. Aside from encouraging a self-fulfilling prophecy with the limiting beliefs that accompany labelling, the unspoken comparison between siblings can often cause them to fight to keep their place, or shed the label and place it onto another member of the family.
2. Encourage Personal Space
Most children struggle with an invasion of their space. Toddlers on a play-date lash out and hit a peer who dares to join them in a favorite activity and teenagers can be hugely territorial over their belongings, albeit their lashing out is usually more verbal than physical. Helping siblings to have their own personal space, that is sacred to them, is vital. As is teaching all members of the family to respect this sacred space. ‘Don’t touch without asking’ should be a rule that applies to all. If your living arrangements don’t allow for your children to have their own bedroom (the easiest solution to allow for personal space), make sure each has a special corner of a room that is theirs and theirs alone.
3. One-to-One Time
Do you remember wondering how you would ever be able to love another child as much as your firstborn when you were expecting your second? Then the new baby was born and you wondered why you ever worried. While loves definitely multiplies, our time and attention doesn’t. There is a famous quote; “children spell love T.I.M.E” and it couldn’t be more correct. While you know you love your children equally (albeit you may not like them equally at any given moment in time!), this is a worry that they struggle with throughout childhood. Making individual time for each child, one-to-one, is critical. Children need time alone with their parents, without their siblings around. This means leaving the new baby with your partner while you dash to the park with your toddler, spending a day at the mall with your teenager, while their siblings stay home, or taking fifteen minutes every day to tuck up each of your children in turn in bed, rather than sharing bedtime. You may be thinking “but I don’t have time for that!” – the simple matter is, if you don’t make time for one-to-one attention, you’re going to have to make time to deal with the rivalry and fights that result from not doing it. It’s much more enjoyable and far easier to spend the time reconnecting with kids!
4. Encourage Problem Solving
Often, parents jump in and try to fix sibling squabbles far too soon. This ‘fix it’ approach however inhibits the siblings from learning how to solve their own issues, without adult help. Instead of jumping in and being judge and jury, it’s much better to act in a commentator or counsellor type role. See your position as encouraging communication and empathy, giving both children a chance to feel heard and then collaboratively problem solving to reach an amicable solution, rather than refereeing. This usually means biting your tongue and sitting on your hands, while you wait for the children to work things out, with a few added pointers along the way, such as “so, that was how you felt – how do you (other child) feel?”, “OK, so I’m hearing you’re angry at your sister, I wonder what your sister’s take on it is?” and “Can either of you come up with a solution where you will be happy? Maybe you could both come up with a suggestion and we’ll start from there?”
5. Co-Operative Games
Encouraging siblings to work as a team during play is a great way to transpose the skills to everyday life. Instead of encouraging games where they work against each other, find ones where they work as a team towards a common goal. For younger children, co-operative board games, such as those made by Peaceable Kingdom, work well. For older tweens and teens, consider a family trip to a Room Escape game.
Siblings will always disagree and fight, however with a little bit of mindful guidance, not only can you encourage their bond and strengthen their relationship for life, but you will also help them to navigate relationship difficulties, from romantic ones to workplace ones, that they will come across in adulthood – as well as hopefully reducing sibling rivalry in the short-term.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith is the author of GENTLE DISCIPLINE: Using Emotional Connection – Not Punishment – to Raise Confident, Capable Kids, among other books. She is a highly regarded parenting expert whose work and expertise has been featured in major media including BBC News Magazine, WebMD, Buzzfeed, as well as national television and radio. She has a BSc in Psychology and has also undertaken training in Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy. Sarah specializes in gentle parenting methods as well as the science and psychology of parenting. She is co-founder of the GentleParenting website (www.gentleparenting.co.uk) and writes a popular parenting blog at sarahockwell-smith.com.Tags: buddies, friends, sibling