Patty D. doesn't know how to stop the sibling war at her house, "My two youngest fight more than any kids I have seen. I don't know how to get it under control," rues this mom.
Here's the perfect analogy for the sibling relationship. A husband comes home with roses and a gift for his wife. He sits her down and says, "Honey, you know I love you. In fact, I love you so much that I decided to bring home another wife. I want you to know that I have enough love in my heart for you both, so don't be jealous, be nice and get along!"
I don't know many women who would easily accept that. Yet, we basically say the same thing to our child when we bring home a new baby.
I'm not sure we can expect siblings to embrace each other right off the bat. I think that's an unfair expectation. Some siblings immediately adore each other, and some are like oil and water. Part of what a child needs to learn throughout childhood is how to get along with others, and the sibling relationship is the perfect teacher.
Four Ways Siblings Teach Each Other About Life
To understand the complexity of the sibling relationship, look at it this way: the sibling relationship is a trial run for future relationships.
- Siblings say mean things to each other. That teaches them that words can hurt and impact people. This is good preparation for all future interactions with others.
- The sibling relationship forces kids to spend a great deal of time with each other, whether they like it or not. They have to learn to share. Learning to consider another person's needs and wants is great preparation for the work environment.
- Siblings have to work out their intense emotions with someone they love, even when they don't want too. That sounds like practice for being in a committed relationship.
- Siblings have to learn how to be compassionate, not competitive. That sounds like practice for being a good friend.
Three Ways a Parent Can Help
1. Don't be the judge and jury — be a facilitator instead.
What does a facilitator do? A facilitator doesn't take a position. She is neutral and simply asks the same question to both kids, allowing them to practice being confident enough to stand up for themselves.
Here are rules: only one person can speak at a time. And each child can only answer the question they were asked. That prevents rambling onto different subjects. Being a facilitator sounds like this:
Son, please explain what happened.
Daughter, please explain what happened.
Son, how do you want to work it out?
Daughter, how do you want to work it out?
This goes on until they resolve things. Resolving things this way teaches self confidence, respect, compassion, and how to come to agreements.
2. Validate them when they say, "It isn't fair!"
One goal of a sibling fight is to try to get a parent to make things fair. Fairness issues are part of early childhood development. Children don't become interested in hearing about their unique differences until they're around 11 or 12. To compensate for that, acknowledge your child's unique point of view by saying, "Wow, I never thought about it that way before!"
This applauds your child for her unique thought process, and begins introducing the concept that everyone has different strengths. Doing this sends the message that it's okay to be treated differently, that things don't always have to be fair. Don't be surprised when the other sibling attempts to show you just how unique their way of thinking is, too. Simply state, "How nice that you both bring something different to our family."
3. Encourage them to work it out among themselves.
In a child's eyes, parents always seem to have the answer. But what if every once and a while you didn't have the answer? Oh my heavens, they'd have to figure it out themselves. What a great learning moment!
Tell them, "I have no answers for this. So if you want to play with this game, you're going to have to decide what would be fair or how to work this out, or the game gets put away." Amazingly they do tend to work it out and stick to their agreements.
Like everything in childhood, the sibling relationship has teaching value. No tips works perfectly or forever with kids. Learning is a long-term process, and that holds true for these tips as well.
Sharon Silver is a parent educator whose advice is basic, real and direct, just like a child. Her site, ProactiveParenting.net shares ways to reduce both a parent and a child's reactions. She's a mom, author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding, and a monthly expert contributor on TV's Sac & Co.