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Sisters and Brothers: The Case of Sibling Rivalry

So your family has more than one child. Whether it was planned, unexpected, or due to the blending of families, siblings are great for each other and their relationships will last their lifetime. Siblings are playmates, friends, teammates, and can rely on each other. As parents we want our children to get along famously. Not just because it creates a more peaceful household, but because we want our children to have family to be supportive of them through their entire lives, even after we are gone. We know sibling rivalry is a normal part of child/family development. How can parents foster a good sibling relationship?

  • Hold Family Meetings: This allows the family to talk about all rules and form compromises together. The entire family learns to work things out.
  • Family Team Spirit: Teach the children how to get along, work together, and find things that work for the entire team family. This includes everything from planning family vacations to weekend outings. Every member in the family is different and for the whole family to be successful, you have to think of everyone’s needs.
  • “You are all my favorites”: Treat every member of the family as your favorite individual. Find the unique qualities in each of your children. Read the book of the same name by Sam McBratney to remind yourself and teach your children you can love each one of them the same.
  • Police the arguments: Pay attention to arguments and the words being used. Intervene immediately if someone is saying hurtful words, physically violent, screaming, or destroying property. Then teach your children how they could have resolved that situation in a different manner.
  • It’s Not Always Fair: Some children grow at different times and require a shopping trip. Others get a later curfew or to see an older movie. Some get a later bedtime and others get more chores. We parent based on age, maturity, and circumstances. If Sally grew and needs a new pair of shoes, we are not going to buy everyone a new pair of jeans to make things fair. There is a difference between teaching your children necessities, limits, and balance and letting them gloat. Sally should not be denied the new shoes and her brother can be told he has to wait until his feet grow. But Sally should not be allowed to flaunt the new shoes in front of her brother or make fun of his old shoes.
  • One-on-One Time: Often it is difficult enough to get family time with our busy schedules that to add in individual attention for each child seems overwhelming. But that needs to happen. Each child needs time with one parent without their sibs. Whether it’s once a month or 30 minutes a day. Give your child special time to be with just you doing something where you focus on that child. Errand running does not count, so do not try to multitask. Set it up as special time, call it that, and treat it as that.

Rewards vs. Bribes

In seeking to strike the balance between them, the rule of thumb when trying to change behavior is that praise for good behavior should be much more frequent than punishment for the behavior you want to eliminate.

Generally, bribery occurs under duress—right smack in the middle of a situation in which your child has seemingly sprouted horns and a tail. It happens quickly, when all you want is to change your child’s behavior on the spot, so you offer him something that you had no previous intention of offering. It is a form of negotiating—and remember, over–negotiating puts the child in the driver’s seat. On the other hand, the effective use of rewards is quite different, because you are compensating your child for his good behavior, rather than being manipulated and extorted.

To understand how rewards work, it can be helpful to think in terms of how the work world operates. You do your job and complete the tasks that are required of your position, and your concrete reward is a paycheck. While there are numerous other ways in which work can be satisfying, the paycheck is the tangible form of a reward that you receive. For your child, motivation to please parents and teachers might apply more during different phases of development than others, but for the most part, children tend to be externally motivated by things they want or enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, most children want to stay in the good graces of their parents, but if they are given rewards regardless of how they behave, the incentive to practice new skills disappears. As I’ll explain next, James Lehman recommends that parents come up with a list of rewards with their child ahead of time. That way, when your child behaves in the grocery store, he knows ahead of time what his paycheck will be—and so will you.

Parenting Lessons That Will Last a Lifetime

Many parents want to improve their parenting. When I ask kids what they want most to change in their house they usually respond with more family time. Running household errands and doing chores is not how children interpret family time together. Although those things are important to get done, what children really want is your undivided attention. American families are notorious for taking on more than we can handle. We are brought up to believe we can have it all. The truth is that there is always a price. Don’t let your overscheduled life hurt the ones who matter most. Here are some suggestions to ensure you are able to put your family first:

Quality Time: Spend time with your kids doing what they are interested in. Get into their world and their interests. Even if it’s something you don’t like or know nothing about it. Become interested in it for them. The best way you can build your kids up is to support them. Dads take your girls shopping and Moms go hit balls at the batting cages. Pillow Talk: Spend time every day talking with your kids’ one on one. Spend fifteen minutes at night before bed talking to your child about their day, life, hopes, and dreams. If you have multiple children start with the child who has the earliest bedtime and then swap with your partner. Sometimes children have things on their mind and before bed they may decide to share it before going to sleep. A short nightly check-in is a way to show your child you are never too busy for him or her.

Family Rituals & Traditions: Many rituals and traditions I have with my children, my family did with me. Friday night was family movie night and in my house I have continued that with my children. I bake Pumpkin bread with my children every December just as my mother did with me. We go camping as a family as my family did with me. We have new rituals we have begun too such as family story time and Sunday family walks/bike rides. Children look forward to spending time doing things together. Start your own tradition and rituals. Whether it’s Taco Tuesday or Wacky Wednesday Game Night, you get to decide and start making the memories with your children that will follow them for a lifetime.

Teaching Family Values: When we look at expectations we place on our children, sometimes we forget they are little people learning what we as adults already know. It is up to us to teach them the values that we feel are important in life. They will require learning it more than once and for multiple years. Come up with a list of family values and make parenting decisions based on those value systems. What are you trying to teach your child? Are you teaching honesty, integrity, patience, kindness, or self-control? Maybe you are teaching teamwork which is why the entire family works together in the yard on Saturday morning. “We are a family that has to work together and pitch in, so everyone at 10am has to be ready to work.” Maybe you are teaching patience and kindness so when that driver cuts you off; you decide to not get frustrated. It is important to not only tell your children how to behave but to model it for them too. Live the life of values you are trying to teach. Live your example.

How to Handle Public Tantrums

Every parent has been the victim of a public tantrum. The feeling like all eyes are on you as your child screams breaking the sound barrier. The best way to handle a public tantrum is to remain calm, breathe deeply, and try to keep your thoughts on the solution. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to teach my child at this moment?” Don’t worry about what other people are thinking because chances are they are more empathetic than you think. Feel free to place your child in Time-Out somewhere in the public place. If your child continues to escalate, pick up and leave. Bobby may not be happy with his dinner of peas and carrots because he had a tantrum in the grocery store. Samantha may be pretty hungry if she has to leave the restaurant before her food got to the table and has to eat PB&J at home instead. Certain natural consequences may seem harsh but they leave a lasting impression that deters future tantrums. So the next time your kid has a tantrum instead of getting embarrassed say to yourself, “Its okay. I got this.”

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