Leadership In Parenting

Sibling Harmony versus Sibling Rivalry: Top 5 Parenting Mistakes

It is not unusual to hear of elderly sibling squabbles that seem to go on a non-stop merry-go-round; all because one sibling is perceived to have had more parental love and attention and more recognition as attested by statements like “Of course, Mum loves you more. Didn’t she give you her favourite gold-plated earrings?” or “You know how Mum and Dad were like when they knew you were coming home. They would spend all day in the kitchen!”

What is sibling rivalry?

A child in a family of two or more children may experience discontent when he sees a brother or sister getting MORE of what he believes he deserves while he is getting LESS. The things that he sees himself getting less and his sibling(s) getting more could be love, attention, higher grades or even material things.

In time, this feeling of discontentment, if not addressed in an appropriate and timely fashion, may arouse envy, jealousy and resentment among the siblings, giving birth to sibling rivalry.

It may even sour their relationship in time to come, right into their adult years. But it does not have to be this way. In the holy scriptures of the Qur’an, there are more examples of sibling harmony than sibling rivalry. This fact alone proves that your children can support each other in the longer run, even when you are no longer around. Plus, knowing that your children are there for each other is one of the things that can really make you the parent happy and fulfilled.

I want to ask you to take a step further now, look into your own family, your own children, to see if the hurts amongst them might be due to sibling rivalry. If nothing is done, over the years the relationship might get to a point where your children can’t even talk to one another in the next family gathering, face-to-face or via Zoom.

Sibling rivalry may be set off by both internal and external factors. But there’s a lot that a parent can do to temper sibling rivalry among his or her children.

The first step is to recognise the five particular mistakes that may breed sibling rivalry at home.

Mistake No. 1: Favouritism

There are two kinds of favouritism: blatant and subtle.

Blatant favouritism is easy to see. If you are a parent who places a great deal of emphasis on academic achievement, for example, you could easily fall into the trap of blatant favouritism if you happen to have a child who consistently excels in academics by showering him with praise each time his test results are announced while the talents and achievements of his siblings in other areas go unnoticed. Or you may have two daughters and you consider one fairer and more attractive than the other and go out of your way to get her better dressed than her ‘ordinary’ looking sister.

Subtle favouritism is more difficult to detect. Children are top notch observers and are very good in noticing behaviour patterns. If you have more than one child, the tone of your voice, even your body language when you greet a certain child will be observed by all the other children. How come Daddy is warmer when he greets my younger brother? Why do Mummy’s eyes light up more when she sees my sister?

To children, how you treat them is a measure of how much you love and value them.

Mistake No. 2: Making comparisons

It is very painful for a child if he is compared to another.

Comments like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or “Your sister would never do that to me.” “Your sister is two years younger and yet she has more sense than you.” are put-downs that devalue a certain child.

Stay away from comparing a child of yours with another child, be it his sibling, cousin, or friend. When we make comparisons, children get the impression that’s how their worth is measured.

Comparisons should only be made with respect to the child’s previous achievements or behaviour; for example, “Hey, thanks for taking out the trash this time!” “Hmm … you got a C for Geography last term and a B this time. That’s a big leap!” “I noticed you cleared up your stuff on the table last night. Good job!”

The trouble with favouritism and making comparisons is that they highlight a child’s weakness against the strength of another.

When you play favourites and/or make comparisons, the child who is not favoured or favourably compared to another feels he is less special while the favoured child gains a false sense of being more special than the other. Besides, if you think that by comparing a child with another will jolt and push him to do better, think again. In reality, comparisons demotivate the child who is less favoured and he is likely to think, “I know I’ll never be like my sister. Why should I even try?”

Favouritism and making comparisons make a child feels insecure and uncertain of his own worth, paving the way for jealousy, envy and resentment to breed.

Mistake No. 3: Taking Sides 

When children fight, steer clear of taking sides, although you may strongly feel at that moment that one child is at fault and tempted to accuse him as such.

Rather, it’s best to guide them with comments like “I’m sure you can find a better way to work this out”. In normal circumstances, this is enough to make them work things out amiably.

Watch out if the argument escalates into something physical. If it does, that’s when you must step in. If it’s two small children, pull them away from each other immediately. If the fight is over something material, for example, a toy, take the toy away and make it clear that until they decide to share it, nobody is going to have fun playing with it.

Let them know that you are available to hear them out once they have decided to resolve the misunderstanding with a compromise. Be sure, though, that the compromise is a win-win situation with no child losing out. You’ll see them playing better next time.

Of a more delicate nature are fights between older children.

Disrespect for personal space, for instance, is a big issue for teenagers and may develop into heated exchanges that are bound to induce an emotional strain between the children involved.

Again, refrain from taking sides.

Mistake No. 4: Lack of Fairness

Lack of fairness is a sure-fire way of making your children dislike one another, especially when they fight. The best role you can assume when your kids fight is that of a mediator. One way of doing this is to have a one-on-one pep talk with both sides. The beauty of one-on-one pep-talks is that each aggrieved party is listened to in a relaxed manner, is more likely to open up and express unhealthy bottled up emotions, without interruptions from anyone else in the family.

When having a one-on-one pep-talk, listen, really listen in a non-judgmental way to what your child has to say. Do not interrupt with your own interpretations of the situation. Let the child finish what he has to say. Then make sure you understand what he has just expressed by saying something like, “So you are upset because …”  to ensure you fully appreciate his position before giving your own views if needed. Find out the grievances and relay them to the other party.

Give each side a fair hearing. Ask questions that would build empathy and sensitivity like “How would you feel if he does the same thing to you?” You may be faced with answers like “But that’s what he did to me last time!” If this happens, point out to the child that you understand how upset he is but stress on the importance of giving it a fresh start.

Effective one-on-one pep talks leave all sides feeling literally lighter. If you are successful in this, you’ll earn the trust and respect from both children.

Being fair doesn’t mean getting identical things of the same measure to every child of yours.

What it means is giving each child what he or she rightly deserves. Each child is a unique individual with special qualities, needs and talents and should be recognised and treated as such.

Mistake No. 5: Labeling

“He’s the naughty one”. “She’s the neat one”. “He’s the brutal one.” Truth is, no one kid is naughty or neat or brutal all the time. Every child has bits of all these. But kids do tend to live up to our expectations. The child who is negatively labelled as “naughty” / “brutal” carries the stigma of that label. The child who is often called “Neat” might think that the day she fails to tidy up her room, she’s no more the good child everyone thinks she is.

What’s the better option? Acknowledge them when they did something good. Reprimand them when they did a mistake. Be specific. Wise parents know that they do not have to acknowledge or reprimand every single time. Over-reprimanding children quite likely would produce unintended results – the child would misbehave just for the sake of getting attention, even if it’s negative attention. Likewise, you do not have to acknowledge every single time a child of yours did something right. Maybe for a start, yes. But don’t overdo it. Let the child experience feeling good for the sake of doing good. This is what internal motivation is all about – feeling good when you do something good. It’s a reward in and of itself.

If each and every one of your children sees him/herself as special in their own way in your eyes, they’ll feel secure and get along better with one another, they’ll have less reason to argue and fight with one another, and there’ll be more peace and harmony in your mind and in your home. Imagine your children being a source of inspiration and motivation for one another for the rest of their lives. What you do today and everyday will either draw them closer to this ideal or push them away from each other. Believe it or not, parents can turn their own children into best friends or foes forever.

Reference: Cool Mum Super Dad

Image: kimberlyfelten

About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 491 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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