Fights and arguments among siblings are a natural part of development—until it turns into a ground for some serious rivalry. These harsh emotions can have long-lasting effects, leaving the kids with sour feelings for each other, along with insecurity and low self-esteem. What’s even more alarming is the fact that parents are often the biggest culprits of fostering or encouraging sibling rivalry. Follow these dos and don’ts in order to encourage a healthy bond between your kids.
- Establish What’s Acceptable & What’s Not
When you set rules, children understand the boundaries in sibling relationships and learn negotiation skills. Counselor Jill A Johnson-Young suggests a few rules:
- Words can and do hurt, so watch what you say.
- Hitting or physically touching in those moments is not ever going to be acceptable behavior, and will have adverse consequences.
- Always use “please” and ask the sibling to “borrow” things rather than “take” them.
- Play fairly in a game—cheating is a strict no-no. Separate your children if they are going beyond these boundaries. Later, ask them to apologize to each other.
- Allocate Teamwork, Not Teams
“Avoid playing games at home that have your children competing against one another. Have them be on the same team and work together,” says Danielle Larkins, mental health counselor and blogger. This process can be started by encouraging them to assist their younger siblings in studies and projects, helping each other with clean-up after playtime, and so on.
- Compliment But Only When Alone
“If you want to compliment your child and tell them they’ve done a good job, do it privately. Each child is special, and it’s good to let him/her know why, but it can foster a lot of jealousy if told in front of the other child,” adds Larkins.
- Think Before You Intervene
Johnson-Young asks you to stay out of it if the fair-fighting rules are being followed—you might be raising a lawyer or Wall Street wizard who needs to know how to negotiate.
- Model Healthy Rivalry
“Once children have the concept of boundaries, a squabble can become a formative moment. They need to learn that there are always winners and losers, and that being good sports and acknowledging the good play is an important part of any game or rivalry,” says Johnson-Young. Playing board games, video games, or sports together will help them accept failure gracefully later on in life.
- Never Compare
Comparing your kid’s athletic and educational abilities can be very damaging to their self-esteem. Organizational and educational leader Dr Chester Goad says that these comparisons can project unrealistic expectations and cause unnecessary anxiety between siblings. It can create hard feelings and even alienation that lasts a lifetime. Johnson-Young adds, “One child feels ‘less than’ or ‘not good enough’, and forever competes silently for approval, attention, and love, ultimately blaming the sibling for being too good to compete against.”
- Gear Them To Feel Proud, Not Jealous
Give your children the gift of encouragement. “Teaching them to encourage each other in their individual pursuits is the best way to avoid sibling rivalry,” says Dr Goad. Demonstrate good sportsmanship, and explain that one person having more skill than the other doesn’t make them a better person, just better at that specific skill.
- Give Them Time, Individually
Johnson-Young advises parents to ensure that all of their children have some one-on-one time with them several times a month, based on their developmental stage. This can include being the cook’s helper and choosing the meal, private park time, or a meal out. But it needs to belong to just that child.