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.

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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