"You love him more than me!" "Kelly always gets to have her way!" Those are the cries of a common and age-old household ailment called "sibling rivalry." Of course we want our kids to feel we love them equally, and we desperately try to make things "fair." But treating kids equally is plain unrealistic: after all, they come packaged with different temperaments, interests, and needs. So don't drive yourself too crazy trying to make things always fair. Besides, real life isn't fair. The real trick to managing sibling rivalry is to reduce those situations that can cause long-lasting resentment and break down their relationships with one another. Here are a few secrets to help you minimize sibling rivalry in your home.
- Be honest. Every so often a good question to ask yourself is: "If someone asked your child if you treat your kids fairly, how would he or she respond?" If you really do notice that one child feels more resentful, then what might be fueling that resentment? What situations seem to escalate rivalry? And most important: What will you do to change your relationship with this child so she feels just as special in your eyes?
- Don't compare . "Why can't you be more like your brother?" "Why aren't you neater like your sister?" All too easily, our children can construe such comparisons as: "You think she's better than me" or "You love her more." So halt those sibling comparison or praise one child's behavior in contrast to a sibling: it can lead to long-lasting resentment and jealousy.
- Listen fairly to both sides. A big secret to reducing rivalry is to let each child know that you value each child's opinions and want to hear all sides. So try to always listen openly to both of your kids. "Thank you for telling me your thoughts. Now I want to listen to your sister's side."
- Watch out for negative labels. Family nicknames like Wimpy, Skinny, or Klutz can cause unfair family teasing and lead to sibling resentment-"Don't worry, she's just the family wallflower"-as well as become continual reminders of incompetence. And those descriptions often stick and become hard to erase, not only inside your family but also outside as well.
- Cultivate a special talent for each sibling. Every child deserves to hear from their parent what makes them special. Awareness of that strength nurtures their confidence as well as sets them apart from their siblings. Ideally, you should try to nurture a different talent for each sibling based on his or her own unique interests and skills. Once you spot the strength, find ways to develop it so each child can be validated for their own talent and individuality.
- Find special alone time with each child. A wonderful way to let each child feel valued is by spending one-on-one time with just you. Take advantage of those alone moments as they arise: "Your sister's asleep. Let's just you and I bake cookies together." Or set a day with each sibling to have special time just with you then mark it on the calendar. How frequently you meet is based on what's realistic for your schedule: twenty minutes weekly, five minutes daily, an hour every other week. If possible, arrange for another adult to watch your other kids or select a time when they're gone. "Together" occasions could be: watching a DVD together on the couch, berry-picking, reading books, going to lunch, an ice cream outing, or just cuddling.
- Acknowledge cooperative actions. Don't forget to do one of the easiest secrets to nurturing sibling harmony: catch your kids supporting each other. Granted those times may be few and far between, but when your children do help, share, and work together, tell them you are grateful. They're more likely to repeat those cooperative actions because they know you appreciate them doing so.