Sibling rivalry: it's a battle

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Ever since Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry has been a feature of family life and it's amazing the many different and creative forms it can take. There's the name-calling, blaming, poking, lying, telling tales, stealing things, hitting, arguing and even just looking at each other.

It can go on and on until it really gets on our nerves and we feel the need to intervene. But it's an inevitability and it's not possible to eliminate it entirely, only manage the excesses.

When it's bickering, stay out of it. When it gets a little noisy, perhaps starting to become verbally nasty, then it's worth making a comment on what we're hearing.

When it seems to have moved towards serious and one or both look as if they're losing control, it's time to take control ourselves and remind them of how they're expected to behave. Beyond that level, separate them, review the rules and decide and impose the consequences for their behaviour.

Brothers and sisters can be both the worst of enemies and the best of friends and even both at the same time. Children learn a lot about themselves and many of the skills of life from their siblings - about fun and pain, sharing and compromise, antagonism, support and loyalty.

Part of the problem is that right through until adulthood, they're at different stages of development with differing needs.

The first child can feel put out when the next arrives and the second child can feel in the shadow of the elder. The elder may feel the younger is favoured with special treatment, while the younger may resent the elder's apparent privileges. This is natural and it's worth discussing the differences openly.

Be watchful for a middle child who could well feel left right out and far from special. While they may be quietly behaved, middle children can sometimes harbour strong resentments about perceived unfairness.

I've talked before about respecting each child for their unique strengths and we need to make sure we do share encouragement and attention around.

Children may envy the skills of others in the family, just as we adults can envy others. They need to be able to talk about this and receive attention for their strengths - real strengths, of course. They can tell when we're not being genuine and that can actually make things worse. "I must really be a lost cause if Mum and Dad have to invent my specialness."

Each child needs quality, personal attention; to be praised for good things done; our interest in their differing interests, hobbies and sports; and fairness in demands on their time to help out.

And our reward for all this effort? They'll probably still seem to fight non-stop.

 - Ian Munro

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