How Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

 

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Me and Rodney 1975

 

I’ll admit, I am about to way oversimplify an issue about complex family dynamics. There are people who spend years in therapy unraveling the impact from the next few points. That said, there are some fairly obvious ways your own sibling relationships, from growing up and from current exchange, can impact your children’s sibling relationships. While it may not be as direct in your family, still worth stepping back and checking the big picture.

Your expectations from childhood – How you got along with your siblings can shape your expectations for how your children will get along. My brother and I got along great, and I expected my children would get along. My husband and his siblings, not so much. He is still surprised by the way our children get along.

Your current sibling relationships – Through your current sibling relationships you are modeling how to treat and interact with siblings. How much you keep in touch, how you greet each other, the time you spend together and how you move through disagreements are all modeling to children about sibling relationships.

How you speak to and about your siblings – How you speak to and about your siblings, models to children how to speak to and about their siblings. If you put down your siblings, complain about them, or critique their decisions often, it opens the door for this to be how they speak to and about their siblings.

Your tolerance for behaviors shaped by what you experienced – A mother of three was teary-eyed asking how to stop her children from bickering. Her question started, “I just can’t take their bickering. There was constant bickering in my house growing up…” Yes, healthy goal for her children to bicker less. Also healthy to recognize some level of bickering is normal, and to find ways to lessen her carried-over stress about the remainder.

 

A Few Hints to Avoid Sibling Rivalry

Two little boys and father planting seedlings in vegetable garde

While these may seem like small points, using comparisons and labels and praise between siblings can cause bad feelings.

Comparisons can be direct like, “why can’t you be more like your sister?” or indirect, “look how neatly your brother keeps his room!” or, “your sister was on time, but we are always waiting on you.” Any negative comparison makes the child feel badly, and overtime it builds resentment towards the other sibling. If you need to encourage a behavior, the better approach is to state it directly such as, “go clean your room,” or, “I need you to be on time.”

Labels assign children roles. This can be as simple as, “this is our big boy, and this is our baby.” Big boy implies responsibility, baby implies none. The baby label can be problematic on it’s own if used long past the point of the child being a baby. A seven-year-old with the baby label may expect to do less in the way of chores or academics because the thinking is, ‘I’m a baby.’

Labels can also be bigger such as, “this is our student, and this is our athlete.”  What you just said to the first is, “you’re not so coordinated,” and to the second, “you’re not so smart.” It’s better to avoid the labels and open wider opportunities to each. Get your student signed up for something athletic, and get your athlete a tutor.

Praise should be given individually. This means avoid giving one child praise to curb their sibling’s behavior. You want to avoid saying, “wow Johny, look how neatly you keep your room,” and then glaring at his sister. It is fine to praise Johny for his clean room, but your intent should be clean. You should be praising him for what you noticed, NOT to curb his sister. If you need the sister to clean her room, just say it directly to her. When you give praise in a relative way, it is negative for both. Obviously it’s not good to be the one that got knocked, but it’s still not good to be the one that got praised in spite of sibling. There is a need to stay on top, to keep others down which is a seed of sibling rivalry.

To learn more about sibling relationships, managing competition between siblings and the effects of birth order, attend my Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry workshop in the evening on May 22.  For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.

Between Siblings: Fair Is Not Equal

Between siblings: Fair is not equal, fair is everyone has their needs met.

It is okay for your discipline to be different for your three-year-old and your six-year-old for the same behavior. You might have a different expectation for your daughter and your son around a particular behavior. You might have to coach one child more to build specific social skills relative to their sibling and that’s okay. You are raising individual children who likely have very different personalities and paths of development. While I think it’s fine to have all of these differences, your children may complain that, “that’s not fair!” As a parent, I hope you can let go of defining fair as equal.

  • With things – Say you are scooping ice cream into bowls and the youngest one says, “she has more than me!” pointing at her older sister’s bowl. She is comparing and complaining about something relative to her sister. The idea is to answer her in a non-relative way. Push the other bowls aside and gently bring her attention to her bowl saying, “this is your bowl. Do you have enough?” She can then answer yes or no, and you’ll have to deal with that, but you are taking it off the sister’s bowl. If she says, “yes,” you can move on. If she says, “no,” you can let her know that’s what is available, or you can give her more just not relative to her sister’s. If you start to dole out slivers of ice cream in an effort to make it equal, you are putting yourself on a path to endlessly measure out amounts.
  • With time – I remember a Sunday afternoon when Alicen and I spent four undivided hours working together on her Jamestown Island project for school. She was eight years old, and her five year old sister spent the afternoon milling around the house and bored. Following that, I didn’t put pressure on myself to give Claire an equal four undivided hours. I had faith that Claire would have a similar project in the future. Overtime, if things really do seem unbalanced then address it.
  • With love – When a child asks, “who do you love best?” Answer them individually by saying, “I love you because…” and then tell them why you love them. Answer them individually, not relative to their sibling.

If you’d like to learn more, please visit our online workshops at www.parentingbydrrene.com. Related workshops include Birth Order, Managing Competition, Sibling Rivalry and Proactive Discipline.

There is also a great parenting book that fully covers this titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.

Helping Siblings Get Along

Here are a few general tips to benefit sibling relationships:

  • Fair is not equal, fair is everyone has their needs met – It’s okay that the discipline for a three-year-old is different than the discipline for a seven-year-old for the same behaviors. They are different children at different stages of development, meeting their needs may happen in very different ways.
  • Avoid comparisons – This can be as mild as, “this is our big boy, and this is our baby,” or as direct as, “this is our student, and this is our athlete.” These labels and comparisons can put a lot of pressure on children and define our expectations which can be limiting.
  • Beyond three years old think of yourself more as coach than referee in helping them get along – When the youngest involved is under three years old, you are still often a referee. As they get older, avoid solving for them. Rather focus on teaching them new and better skills to problem solve themselves. Focus your efforts on helping them listen to each other, take turns and share, negotiate and problem solve together. This can take a great deal of time and creativity, but in the long run moves them towards being able to solve without you.
  • Give them lots of opportunities – Siblings need opportunities to play and work together. This might be shared challenges like cleaning up together to beat the clock, cooking together, having sleep overs or building forts together.

To learn more about each of these ideas and much more about sibling relationships, join my Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry workshop this Sunday April 14 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.  For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Can’t make it to the workshop? There is a great parenting book titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.

Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

Two Families Sitting Outside House

First, your own sibling relationships help shape your expectations for how your children might get along. My brother and I got along great growing up. We played together when we were little and hung out fairly often through college. I expect my girls to get along. When they do play and hang out, I count that as it should be. My husband and his siblings didn’t get along so well. His older brother and he fought often and never felt close. His younger sister and he bickered often. When he sees the girls getting along, he is still surprised. He thinks it’s just short of miraculous they enjoy each others’ company.

Second, how you speak to and about your grown siblings models to your children how to speak to and about siblings. Read that again if you need to. When your children are within earshot, speak about your siblings in the nicest way possible. It’s great if it’s honest, and it’s okay if it’s a stretch, or just avoid saying negative things so openly. I speak very openly about growing up with my brother, how much fun we had on family vacations and how it was great to be at the same high school and college for a year. My husband speaks nicely about his sister and avoids speaking much about his brother as it’s still rocky.

Third, you may side more often with one or the other based on birth order or other related variables. I was the youngest in my family, and I find myself occasionally siding with my youngest Claire because her perspective makes sense to me. The goal is to recognize the tendency and be sure it doesn’t become a pattern.

Avoid Focusing on the Sibling Relationship Specifically

I grew up with a brother. I know it is natural for siblings to bicker and fight sometimes. I also know it is easy to put pressure on their individual relationship when you are addressing the behaviors. I hear parents saying things like, “you will love your brother. He is going to be your best friend some day.” and, “In this house we will all like each other!” This pressure tends to weigh heavy and if anything, backfire.

The idea is to address the behavior and teach the social skills in general and let that trickle down to the sibling relationship. If they are name-calling, teach and practice how we speak to people, make a rule that we all call each other by name. If they are grabbing toys, teach about turn-taking and sharing without mentioning siblings by name. Whatever the difficulty, go broad and focus on skill building first rather than directing them back to each other specifically.

During all of this, focus on giving them opportunities to share play and space. Provide fun projects and outings together. You are giving them a good chance to practice all the social skills you are teaching without forcing the flow.

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