Any parent who has more than one child knows the joys of watching siblings play together, support each other, and grow together. They also know that there is probably no sound more irritating than that of your children fighting with each other, whether it is in the car or at home. This is a sentiment I frequently hear from my clients and friends and, I have experienced it first hand. It is a unique brand of torture that siblings perpetrate upon one another but rest assured, it is perfectly normal.
I have written in the past about how having a brother or a sister teaches you many things such as: conflict resolution, how to compromise, how to share, how to stick up for yourself, and how to forgive. So next time you want to pull your hair out listening to your kids bicker; take a deep breath and think about how their relationship is helping them to grow and, as difficult as it may be, try to take yourself out of the equation. Unless there is the real risk of someone actually being injured, the next time your kids run to you to tattle on the other, direct them to work it out themselves. Do not give in to being the referee. If your kids are given the opportunity, you may be pleasantly surprised at how capable they are at resolving their own issues.
We all try to encourage our kids to clean up their own messes, well; this applies to their emotional messes as well. When kids argue, feelings usually get hurt and so often a parent runs in to soothe the injured party. Not only are you unwittingly taking sides when you do this; you are further widening the divide between your kids. If one child is truly upset, try enlisting the child who caused the sadness to help remedy the situation. Not only does this teach them to work it out on their own but also it helps them to view each other differently. The child who was wronged learns that his or her sibling can be nurturing and the offending child begins to build empathy and starts to see himself or herself as a compassionate person.
From the moment your second child is born you can instill a sense of pride at being an older sibling in your first child. Involve your older child in care taking tasks that will allow him or her recognize their important role. As your kids grow, enlist them in ways to help each other. When one child is sad or upset about something that happened with a friend, ask the other if they can offer some comfort. Let your older child help with the bedtime routine for your younger one. If they are old enough, let them read books and help your younger one to fall asleep, simple moments such as these help to strengthen bonds between siblings.
Avoid comparing your kids to each other out loud. An example of this would be to say to your older child, “Look how well your brother follows direction. I wish you listened that well.” This is a sure way to build resentment and erode closeness.
Your relationship with each child is unique and that is the message that needs to be conveyed instead of the platitude of, “I love you all equally.” It is not about how much you love each child; it is about the reality that you love each one differently, because they are distinctly different people and it is important that they are aware of this. This knowledge helps kids to feel that their unique strengths are valued and encourages them to appreciate their siblings for who they are as individuals.
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