The story is as old as Cain and Able. The relationship between siblings is not always one that is laced with love and grace. If you ask most parents, they will likely wonder what in the world made them to decide to have more than one child. The fighting can be annoying at best, and relentless. And worse, it seems that when siblings are involved there is always an underlying air of competition with one another, whether they are trying to see who can eat the most cereal, or get the most love from mommy and daddy.
The question is, how to deal with competition among siblings? You love them all the same, right and you wish that instead of constantly trying to engage in the game of Survivor where they outwit, outdo and outplay one another they would just learn to accept things as they are. Sam is a better baseball player than Scott, but Scott is better in school. Having talents and skills that set you above others (or below) is part of life, and often a part of life that is learnt in the home.
Sadly, children often deal with this competitiveness with sheer brut and a lack of compassion. Remember your big brother holding your arms behind your back and making you sniff his socks? That was sibling competition at its best.
For parents, the endless competition can wreak havoc on the family dynamic and peace in the home. You have to realize as a parent that one of the leading reasons your children are so different even though they were raised in the same home is because of this competitiveness. Often, the younger siblings who get picked on the most develop a stronger personality and a different drive than the older ones, simply because they have to. The older siblings who have had to deal with the birth of a baby, and who feel threatened by all the attention a younger sibling gets often try to find small minded ways to beat their sibling, whether it be at a race. Obviously, for the adults looking in it is easy to see this competition as bullying, which often it is for the older siblings. Through the delivery of punishment or discipline, older siblings feel defeated and can actually become even more competitive with the younger kids in your home. Truly, it is a vicious circle.
Dr. Sylvia Rimm who is a renowned family therapist advises parents to avoid labels with their children. A parent, in order to encourage self-esteem may start giving their children labels. They may call one child the brainiac and the other the athlete. Unfortunately, these labels handed down with the best of intentions often increase the competitiveness and undermine the kids involved. The brainiac may feel like he or she is inept at sports, while the athlete may feel as if they will never measure up to the ‘smart’ child. And so, the competitiveness between the two is increased. Avoiding labels and making sure that you don’t falsely discourage one child while trying to encourage another is important.
Avoid telling your children that they are the ‘best’ at anything. Instead, try to support their differences without using comparison words or scenarios. If one child is considered the beauty of a family all of the other kids will covet this title and feel ugly in comparison. Also, remind your children that the whole family can be successful, and that they are not competing with one another.
Additionally, if you have either close aged siblings it is important to treat them as fairly as possible. Children whose ages are close together, or who are twins often feel radically undermined by their siblings. Research has shown that close aged siblings can be ultra competitive and that the sibling on the ‘losing’ end of the competition can experience some drastic effects and become an unachiever in life. The same is true for siblings who have large age gaps. The baby of the family can often be so over protected by siblings and at the same time resented by them, that they can experience trouble later in life.
In order to keep the competitiveness in your family down, try to encourage the following behaviors:
- Spend equal time at all the children’s extra curricular events. Even if you love baseball more than ballet, it is important that the entire family support one another. Teach your children how to cheer one another on.
- Always encourage children to do their best! Try to teach them early in life that their best may be better than, or not as good as other people’s best. It is okay to come in second, as long as they tried their hardest.
- Be aware when your child are being competitive with one another and try to change the mood so that they can strive to enjoy activities rather than be competitive during activities.
- Try to develop a strong sense of your family unit. If your family can be strong together, and you can get your children to stand up for and behind one another, they will be empowered.
- Never allow older children to bully. Obviously, your 10 year old can run faster than your 5 year old. However, when kids use their age advantages as a way to keep another sibling down in the dumps, you need to make sure you interceded. First, explain privately to the older sibling that bullying won’t be tolerated and also explain privately to the littler sibling that some things are easier to do when they are bigger.
- Make sure your children know and hear often that you love them all the same. Respect their differences but love them the same.
Sibling competition is not always a bad thing. Many researchers believe that younger children often over achieve because they are so competitive and have older siblings to measure up to. As long as you aren’t facilitating this attitude, and are careful to keep your children from bullying one another, chances are things will turn out just fine. After all, competition is part of life.