Generating goodwill between siblings

Kairen is a Chartered Educational Psychologist whose work has supported the development, learning and wellbeing of many children, young people and adults. She has worked with family issues including new siblings and sibling rivalry; relationships; bullying; shyness; loss and bereavement; healthy eating and obesity; and sleep problems. Education issues are another area including starting/changing/leaving school; behavioural difficulties and learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. She believes it is essential to work in a person-centered, congruent and positive way.

For individual advice you can contact Kairen direct at:
Speak to me on 0906 194 9604 £1.53/min from a BT landline; calls from mobiles and other networks may vary.

Take the expectation-loaded, busy and demanding time of Christmas and throw in some warring siblings and peak stress for parents is guaranteed but some helpful approaches are worth considering.

Why do children experience sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is one of the biggest but most common worries parents struggle with, yet it is a universal aspect of human behaviour. It arises because children often want more of their parents’ time, attention and energy than is available and think that brothers/sisters are getting more than their fair share. Children of all ages can experience this as feeling less loved and valued along with strong emotions such as sadness and even anger. This can then lead to some undesirable and worrying behaviour, such as constant arguments, aggression and shouting between the children, and, in the long term, if not sorted out early on, lifelong issues of rivalry and distrust.
On the plus side, though, if a child can accommodate their brother’s/sister’s needs and be helped to understand that their parents love and are doing their best for all their children, some valuable emotional and social development can happen and they will also benefit from some lasting, strong family relationships.

How can Christmas make sibling rivalry especially difficult?

At Christmas all the usual, ordinary routines and activities that help family life run smoothly are exchanged for a completely different set of pursuits. Add to this the enormous expectations that everyone will be satisfied, happy and loving and full of goodwill and it is unsurprising that tensions, disappointments and arguments can result. Children, being less mature, more centrally focused upon their own needs and wants, are most likely to express the difficult emotions and squabbles between siblings are almost inevitable.
One plus point about Christmas is that being a holiday, it is more likely that both parents can be involved or other familiar adults, sometimes with individual children and this will strengthen other relationships and also allow each child to have some experience of being the focus of adult attention. This, in combination with whole family activities can make for an emotionally rich and rewarding time for everyone.
This is a time when you, the parent, should soak up any support and encouragement available, from friends and relatives and also let it all out with someone you trust. To achieve emotional wellbeing we all need our feelings acknowledged. It is hard work dealing with sibling rivalry but if you can hold on to a sense of perspective and focus upon all the benefits as well as the challenges that siblings give to each other your hard work will be repaid, in the short-term, over Christmas, and over time as the children’s relationships with each other and in the family as a whole grow.

What can I do about sibling rivalry?

The key to managing sibling rivalry is prevention. Keep positive, constructive and remember, all you really want is to create a loving and happy group of people who support and enjoy each other, especially at Christmas.

Try the following:
Possibly your children will not automatically love or even like each other as much as you want them to.
Realistically set your expectations about what the children can reasonably be expected to share, do together and enjoy collectively.
Enjoy the differences between your children. Let them know that you like their unique qualities and do not just see them as part of a ‘family set’.
Voluntary involvement is much better than siblings constantly being forced to do everything together.
Each child should have some quality time of their own with their parent/s. It is all about perceptions, i.e. the child’s perception of enjoying having you to themselves.
Normalise family life. You are the expert on your particular family and its issues at any one time and these are nearly always perfectly normal.
Talk about differences and difficulties between siblings in a relaxed, positive and low-key way. Avoid compensating and communicating that you in any way regret your unique family. If you can help your children to understand the complex idea that love can grow and meet the needs of everyone involved you have given them the best Christmas present ever and one that will help them for the rest of their lives.

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