Sibling rivalry has been around as long as families have been around.
But why does sibling rivalry exist?
Siblings often have different temperaments, varying interests, diverse goals and ethics.
Their position in the family also affects the expectations that parents have of their children.
Often, older siblings are expected to defer to their younger siblings, making them feel that their needs are not as important to their parents.
Similarly, parents may have different expectations from daughters than from sons.
Because families are made up of many different types of personalities, it is difficult to generalize how parents can help manage sibling rivalry.
So what can parents do to limit sibling rivalry in the home?
The following list of DOs and DON’TS may help limit the severity of fighting:
1. DON’T make comparisons between your children. All children deserve to be given their own personal goals and expectations within the family. Making comparisons will set each of them up for failure or disappointment at varying times.
2. DON’T ever dismiss your children’s need to express their anger or frustration. Anger is a normal human emotion and should not be discouraged. The expression of anger, however, needs to be done in a socially appropriate way. Siblings will get angry with each other, but this does not permit them to physically hurt one another. Parents can use these opportunities to acknowledge the anger and encourage them to talk it through.
3. DO avoid situations that encourage feelings of guilt and resentment between siblings. Children need to learn that feelings and actions are mutually exclusive. Parents can teach their children that the ‘guilty’ feelings they experience after having done something wrong are a lot harder to tolerate than merely ‘feeling’ like they want to do something that they know is wrong.
4. As often as possible, DO leave siblings alone to settle their own arguments. Don’t intervene every time. This discourages children from learning how to cope on their own and also creates a pattern where children will always expect you to solve their problems.
5. DON’T take sides. More often than not, parents only see a very small part of the argument, and are too quick to ‘punish’ the wrong child. Without seeing the big picture, parents need to be careful they do not appear to be favouring one child over another.
6. DO acknowledge appropriate play. Too often, parents focus their attention on their children when they are misbehaving and tend to ignore appropriate behaviour. Praise goes a long way when trying to teach children and is also very helpful in raising their self-esteem.
7. DO put in place a fair reward system where all children can earn privileges equally. For instance, parents can individualize a reward system to earn privileges for such things as who gets to ride “shot gun” in the car, who pushes the elevator buttons, who chooses the restaurant for the next family outing, who chooses the next movie, etc.
Without a doubt, siblings will continue to rival until the end of time. Parents can only do so much. With guidance and direction, one hopes that as siblings grow up and mature, they will learn to pick and choose what they fight about, and keep their parents out of it.
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Tattle-taling is a NORMAL part of development.
It begins as early as the age of 3. All children do it.
The truth is, preschoolers are only able to think in black and white terms. And if things don’t go their way, they feel they have been wronged. Period.
The upside is that by tattling, preschoolers demonstrate they understand ruleshave been broken, implying that they know the difference between right and wrong. At this age, however, they have not mastered conflict resolution. Their only outlet is to tell an adult what is going on, often misinterpreted as tattling.
We all want to raise our children to be independent thinkers, learn to trust their own instincts and to make decisions on their own.
So while trying to encourage these qualities, how can we determine when they are just informing us of a situation or when they are telling us in the hopes that we will intervene?
Is there really a difference between these two scenarios?
Before scolding your children, make sure you know exactly what is going on.
Children tattle in dangerous situations.
We try to teach our children to tell an adult if they or someone they are with is in a dangerous situation. In such cases, be sure to praise your children for bringing awareness to the situation.
Children need to feel like you are taking their problems seriously.
Children may also tattle when they are confused.
Children may not know the difference between something that could be harmful or dangerous and something that is just plain irritating. They may tattle, not for purpose of getting another child in trouble, but rather because another child’s behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable or because they know it is wrong. Often children tattle because at that moment they are not sure what to do with the information.
It is best to empower these children. There is no need to rescue them, but give them ideas on how best to handle the situation on their own. This teaches them problem-solving skills from an early age.
Determine if you really want to get involved.
Remind your children as often as necessary that unless there is danger, you do not need to know about it. And if your children are acting appropriately, praise them.
A rule in our house has always remained strong: No tattle-taling unless, somebody is ‘bleeding’. Clearly this is an extreme boundary, but it sends our children the message that they need to think long and hard before coming to us to complain.
Does this always work? Of course not. And we too continue to encourage them to work out their problems on their own.
Keep in mind that if you decide to get involved, there is often no turning back. If there is a need for you to discipline the ‘other’ child, you are merely reinforcing the tattle-taler’s behaviour, regardless of the outcome.
The good news is that beyond preschool and as children mature, they are better able to differentiate between telling and tattle-taling. It then becomes the parents’ responsibility to manage what often feels like incessant complaining. As children mature, with parental guidance, they develop their own means of coping.
Both in my private practice as well as amongst my peers, I hear more and more that children are having trouble transitioning from one activity or situation to another. So much so that parents are seeking help from therapists and teachers.
Why are children struggling in this area? And why more now than in the past?
Is it because parents are talking more about these situations or has the incidence of such struggles increased? There is no clear answer to this question. What is clear is that many children in our community are suffering.
If the actual reasons for the reluctance to transition are not clearly understood, how can parents help their children?
1. Validate their feelings.
First and foremost, kids need to have their feelings validated. Brushing off their concerns does not help the situation and also sends the message that what they feel is not important to you. This is probably the opposite message that you are trying to convey.
2. Understand that kids get ‘stuck’ when they feel safe in their current environment.
If children are reluctant to try new activities, it is because they feel safe and secure in their current environment. If this were not the case, they would be more likely to seek new opportunities and different activities.
3. Always give your children a ‘Heads Up’.
Explain to your children how much time they are allowed to engage in a certain activity. This sets expectations for them and gives them parameters. This way children will know that after the given period of time, they will have to transition to something else.
It is also helpful to establish an unspoken signal between you and your child, such as a nod, or a scratch to the nose. Do whatever you can to make the transitions as easy as possible for them. Whatever you do, ensure the signal is agreed upon by both of you so there is no opportunity for misunderstanding.
4. Avoid arguing right before a transitional period.
Save the discipline for later if the behavior warrants it. It is also helpful to look for natural transitional periods. For example, “When your TV show is over, it is time to get ready for bed.” This is a natural transitional period, and will go a lot farther than, “It’s 8PM. TV is off. Time for bed.” You want to send a message that conveys structure and discipline while also considering your child’s feelings.
Additionally, try to give your children something to look forward to when they leave a situation. For instance, if there is cooperation around getting ready for bed, let them know ahead of time that you’ll reward them with an extra-long snuggle, two books to read, etc.
5. Continue to be sensitive to your children’s needs.
If it appears that your children are struggling with a transition, actively listen to their concerns. Bend down and make eye contact with them. Touch their shoulder. Give them reassurance. And look for signs that help is needed before the anxiety about the transition spirals to the point where there is no turning back.
It is ultimately up to you to make transitions as easy as possible for your children.What works for one does not necessarily work for another, even within the same family. You know your children best. Listen to their cues. Hear their concerns.
Children learn by example. It is our job as parents to help our children adapt to life’s circumstances and to understand their place in the world with as much love and support as possible surrounding them.
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