Throughout the years, sibling rivalry has often been a topic of concern with families. Sibs are in competition for attention; they tease, argue, instigate and blame. They hit and say hurtful things to keep each other in their place. Typical sibling behavior, if it is allowed.
When I was a teenager, I learned how powerful a strong sibling relationship could be. My closest friend and her sister were the best of friends. They trusted, protected and constantly showed acts of kindness toward each other. It was then I decided that whenever I had children, I would make it my mission to help them become the best of friends.
Throughout the years, sibling rivalry has often been a topic of concern with families. Siblings are in competition for attention; they tease, argue, instigate and blame. They hit and say hurtful things to keep each other in their place. It's typical sibling behavior, if it is allowed.
I found three things to be very successful in promoting healthy, loving sibling relationships.
1. Build a team.
When talking to a child about a sibling, refer to the sibling as “your brother” or “your sister” rather than using his or her name. With more than one brother or sister, say, “your brother, Ben” or “your sister, Eliza.” Continually replacing “your sister” or “your brother” sends a strong familial message. It helps siblings attach to each other, work together as a family unit, and learn to be a team player rather than fight to be the star of the team.
Some families refer lovingly to one child as “the baby” long into toddlerhood. Babies are taken care of and get lots of attention, something every child wants. So identifying one child as “the baby” may build jealousy or resentment. A child’s perception is their reality.
2. Set the stage.
When my three were little, I continually told them how much the other missed them throughout the day. I’d say, “Your brother is going to love to see your picture when he comes home from school.” When picking one up from preschool, I’d say, “Your sister missed you so much, and can’t wait to show you her picture!” My mantra to all three was that friends come and go, but you’ll always have your brother or sister.
I also set them up for successful playtimes, so that their time together was positive. I encouraged sharing and cooperation with each activity, and monitored closely so I could intervene quickly before arguments started.
3. Promote acts of kindness.
Inspiring children to participate in acts of kindness increases self-esteem, which, in turn, diminishes their need to misbehave for negative attention. Children don’t naturally hold a door for a stranger, pick up something that someone has dropped, or help a sibling zip a jacket, but a little encouragement from us can help them to feel those successes.
I’m currently working with three children, ages 6 through 9, who are in constant competition, arguing often and functioning as individuals rather than as a team. I suggested the parents describe various acts of kindness, and offer a child five minutes “in the bank” each time someone displays an act of kindness.
The children earn “minutes” until 30 to 60 minutes are accumulated, when they can “cash them in” for an activity with a parent. Baking cookies, going for a walk or bike ride, playing a board game or spending time with a parent are rewards. The child who “cashes in” chooses to do the activity just with a parent or invite all the sibling(s) to join. The inclusion of siblings helps to make the one feel very special (since she had the power to include) and fosters better relationships.
Some might feel that earning minutes for acts of kindness is an unnecessary form of bribery. However, babies are born as self-centered beings (ask any 2-year-old to share!) and learn from their experiences how to share and be kind.
It definitely is worth the effort to teach our children to be the best of friends. Everyone wins.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a Repository contributor and parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.