Sibling rivalry is a common occurrence in which siblings fight, compete, and argue with each other. It doesn’t end with childhood and is often viewed as a negative aspect of the sibling relationship. As a former infant mental health clinician and a speaker on parenting issues, I would tend to agree. However, sibling rivalry can be turned into a positive force if fostered appropriately by parents.
Sibling Rivalry For Good
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First, parents should never have favorites or use the behavior of one child as a weapon or even encouragement for another child. Parents should be neutral. Children will naturally compete with one another, to a certain extent, and parents don’t need to get involved. Highlighting or actively preferring one child or his behavior will only lead to deep-seated frustration and anger between those siblings.
Second, parents should encourage their children, from an early age, to work out differences and arguments between themselves. Early childhood is a vibrant, dynamic phase when children can learn a great deal about social rules, communication, and relationships. They can either learn that mom/dad/teacher will and should step in and handle things, or they can begin to learn and feel confident and competent in their own ability to make things happen.
This doesn’t mean allowing all-out brawls in the playroom or on the playground. It means encouraging young children to use their words, negotiate, and compromise.
Finally, parents should go out of their way to find and state concrete praise for all their children. “You’re so great!” isn’t as effective as “It’s kind of you to share your toy with your sister” or “You should feel proud of yourself for helping your brother with his reading.” Also, when giving praise, frame it in a way that shows it’s not about how YOU feel about your child. It’s about how your child feels about him or herself. “You should feel proud … ” rather than “I feel so proud of you because … ”
By letting children work out these early social situations we are teaching them they CAN do it. We are giving them opportunities to thrive and succeed. This means occasionally they’ll fail and fall down. But as a great thinker once said, “I didn’t fail. I succeeded in learning a thousand ways that didn’t work.”
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