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7 Parenting Strategies That Cause Sibling Rivalry

By Michael Grose


Sibling rivalry comes with the parenting territory. If you feel uncomfortable with rivalry between siblings then maybe it is best to stop at one child. After the birth of the second child you may think you are bringing a playmate home for the first born but in his or her eyes you have brought someone into your home who is a rival for your affection and attention. This of course is not how you see the situation but then it is your child's private logic that matters.

The current trend to have small, planned families promotes competition between siblings. Rivalry is generally intense when there are only two children in a family as it is hard to escape a single sibling. When there are only two or three children in a family the chances of finding a soul mate or having a close encounter of the positive kind with a family member diminishes.

Some children are more prone to rivalry due to their competitive temperaments. Could you imagine being a parent of the Waugh twins as children? Life would have been one long Test Match as there would have been a competitive element to everything they did.

Sibling rivalry, however, is not necessarily a fait accompli. It doesn't have to happen, or at least to the extent that it has a negative impact on children and family-life. Parenting practices do play their part. Frustratingly, it is easier to inflame rivalry than it is to reduce rivalry. The following 7 practices inadvertently inflame competition between siblings:

1. You praise one child and criticize another. This rivalry raiser never fails to drive a wedge between siblings. I am not suggesting you adopt a ‘flat earth' policy and praise every child for everything they do. That's not smart. But be careful not to put a child on a pedestal (for being good, smart, sporting, etc) as this invites other children to knock him or her off.

2. You compare one child to another. A comment such as "why don't you keep your room tidy like your sister?" will ensure that there always be one untidy bedroom in a house. We often compare children out of frustration or even with well-meant intent. Some people think if they offer a sibling as a model a child will want to copy them, but this usually doesn't work in families.

3. You solve each and every dispute that children have between each other. It is almost impossible to enter children's disputes without taking sides and then you will be accused of favoritism. Siblings who experience less competition generally work out their own ways of resolving issues. Just make sure that the eldest doesn't act like the deputy sheriff and rules the range through bullying.

4. You keep a league ladder with kids' performances. Kids know exactly how they fit with each other, in regard to achievements and developmental rates without parents keeping score. Place your emphasis more on kids' performance (trying hard, improving, etc) rather than the results ( great school marks, winning games, etc. ) and you will stay out of this difficult area.

5. You forget that kids want to be different from each other. Sometimes we dress them the same and treat them the same way yet fundamentally children want to be different than their siblings. Kids are niche marketers, always looking for their point of difference so celebrate the differences rather let them frustrate you.

6. You expect more from one child than another. Parental expectations of children's performance are tricky. If they are too high kids may not reach them and give up in the process. If they are too low then children may meet them and that is all. The trick is to be realistic and match your expectations with children's ability and age and stage of development. Parents are usually hardest on first borns and loosen up as we move through the family.

7. You model competitive behaviors. Kids learn most of their interpersonal behaviors from observing significant others - i.e. parents. So if you are fiercely competitive yourself, children are likely to model such behaviors and attitudes. Keep your competitive nature in check when you are around kids and save it for the sports field, the workplace or other legitimate forums. As a general rule competition (beating others) works poorly in interpersonal relations.

How did you go reading the above? If you find yourself guilty of one, two or more don't beat yourself up. Many of these strategies are hard-wired into our parenting. If you buy into my notion of rivalry raisers then select the one that made you cringe and either leave it out of your repertoire or do the opposite.

For instance, if you have a habit of comparing children then bite your tongue if you are tempted to do so. Instead use self-comparison as a strategy. That is, "you are not as tidy today as you generally are" or "you scored higher in your spelling than you did last week." Little adjustments make a huge difference.



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Michael Grose is a popular parenting educator and parent coach. He is the director of Parentingideas, the author of seven books for parents and a popular presenter who speaks to audiences in Australia, Singapore and the UK. For free courses and resources to help you raise happy kids and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au 



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