By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
It’s normal for brothers and sisters to argue and compete for their parents’ attention. Sibling rivalry teaches kids to manage conflicts, share, cooperate and express their ideas and feelings.
Children can learn how to deal effectively with conflict through their interactions with brothers and sisters. When they argue, they are learning that they are not always going to get along with everyone, even those with whom they are closest. Telling your children that sometimes people feel angry, sad and frustrated with those around them will give them a healthy view of reality. Teaching your children to identify these emotions as normal can help them respond to their feelings in a healthy way.
Tell your children that there are three ways to solve an argument – by becoming physical (which is never a good way to solve a problem); by using appropriate words and talking the problem through to come to a compromise; and by taking time out away from the conflict to think about it.
Here are some tips to help you manage your children’s natural sibling rivalry:
* Allow your older child to help care for the younger one. Helping to feed a baby or change a diaper can strengthen the relationship between siblings. Encourage your child to be proud to be a big brother or big sister.
* Don’t point out your children’s differences in front of them. Your child might interpret comparison as criticism and may think that he’s not as good or as loved as his sibling.
* Stay out of your children’s arguments if you can. You may have to step in and settle a spat between toddlers or preschoolers, but older children will probably settle an argument themselves if left alone.
* Let your children know that violence is unacceptable. Make sure your children are made aware that violence will not solve a problem, and praise them when they solve their arguments peacefully.
* Don’t punish one child in front of the other. When it’s necessary to punish or scold your child, do it alone in a quite, private place. Scolding him in front of another child can lead to his being teased.
* Give your children – especially older children – their own space. Keep each child’s own personal things apart from shared ones.
* Don’t try to treat your children equally. If one child needs a new pair of shoes and the other doesn’t, don’t buy shoes for both children.
Children also learn how to respond to conflict by watching their parents deal with conflict. If they see you dealing with your emotions in a constructive way, they will learn to do so as well.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.
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