Sibling rivalry is a pertinent issue for children, teens and parents alike. Luckily, there are ways to combat this ongoing competition between siblings!
Sibling Rivalry: Turning a Negative into a Positive
"Mom, why do you pay more attention to HIM than ME?" This was the question posed by my youngest--and most outspoken--son, Daniel. I was interrogated in my very own kitchen, while cooking meatballs. Caught red-handed as I gave a much-needed hug to Daniel's older brother, Gregory, a middle schooler fretting over his homework.
"Mom, do you love him more than me?!" Daniel persisted. He's never been one to mince words when feeling short-shrifted. Filled with mom-guilt, I told Daniel how much I loved him--and each of my boys--equally. I repeated "equally" at least five times.
A Persistent Problem for Teens
As a mom of three boys, I'm always smoothing someone's ruffled feathers. Blame it on sibling rivalry, that catch-all phrase parents use to explain the daily tussles and competition among sibs. I used to think sibling rivalry was a short-term problem that would dissolve as my kids matured, with each boy finding his own niche in the family. Fighting over toys would stop once the last Hot Wheels were tossed in the donation bin, I reasoned. Wrong. Sibling rivalry doesn't go away, it just moves from the playground to the athletic fields and beyond.
Lucy, a mother of four boys, admits she works overtime to manage her kids' competitiveness. "Family activities can turn into fistfights if we pick the wrong activity," she says. "I try not to have the boys competing directly. Group outings to the ball field to practice together? I avoid that. Somebody always ends up feeling less-than or muttering 'I hate you!' to a sibling. I want them to become more supportive of each other as they grow up."
As teens become more self-aware and intent on creating their own identity within the family, there are more opportunities for sibling rivalry. It's especially true when sibs share interests.Toni, mother of two, relates, "My sister Terri, who is 21 months younger, has always been my best friend. But the competition between us was intense when we were teens. One day at swim team practice, we were at each other's throats! Terri and I kept bumping into each other in the swim lane during laps. We ended up having a clawing, hair-pulling screaming match in the pool, and the coach banned us from practice." Toni relays her story--which happened over 30 years ago--as if it occurred yesterday.
Cain and Abel vs. Venus and Serena
Sibling rivalry is impossible to eradicate and as old the Bible. As a mom, I'd like to avoid the Cain and Abel scenario in favor of a better outcome for my boys--more like football's legendary Manning brothers or Venus and Serena Williams, high-profile sibs who are renowned for supporting and celebrating each others' accomplishments. No, I don't mean I'm grooming my boys to be NFL superstars. Instead, I'll settle for harnessing their competitive tendencies in more positive ways as teens. Here are some tips I'll be keeping in mind:
Sibling Rivalry Do's and Don'ts
1. Remind your children that everyone in the family has their own unique strengths and limitations.
2. Avoid comparing your children in front of them. Even teens can think a sibling is loved and valued more based on frequent comparisons.
3. Help each child find individual hobbies and activities to excel at, separately from sibs.
4. Cultivate family unity. Non-competitive activities like family movie nights strengthen sibling relationships.
5. Give your child regular doses of "alone time".Your undivided attention is still important to your teen and alleviates sibling competition.
6. Hold routine family meetings to help build cooperation and positive problem-solving among sibs.
For more in-depth tips, resources and information on sibling rivalry, go to:
YourChild Development and Behavior Resources, University of Michigan Health System: http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/sibriv.htm