Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sibling Rivalvy: Give Children What They Need

"I was first!" "That's not fair!" "Mine!"

Parents with more than one child will likely hear this kind of exclamation over and over again. These are the yells of children struggling not to be left out, or making sure their siblings aren't getting better treatment.

Young children, especially up until age 5, are quickly growing in all the developmental areas - socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively. Part of social and emotional development for children is learning how to get along with others, handle and express their feelings, and being able to share and cooperate. For children in families with more than one child, home becomes the perfect classroom to start learning these social and emotional skills.

Having siblings helps children learn and practice how to cooperate, work out differences, and eventually understand that they will still get their needs met and are still loved, no matter how many children are in the family.

What's the Rivalry About?
Sibling rivalry is not new nor a serious concern. However, it can have lasting positive and negative effects on the relationship between brothers and/or sisters.

Whatever you call it, the "rivalry" or "competition" or "challenge" between siblings is quite normal. It is human nature. The bottom line is that it's important for parents to remember is that sibling rivalry is natural and it is usually nothing to worry about. You can help make things easier for you and your children by knowing what is behind some of your children's feelings and actions.

Arrival of a New Baby
When a new baby brother or sister arrives in the family, it is a big deal. It brings up many feelings and concerns that most young children are not aware that they have or aren't able to put into words.

Children are continually forming a sense of themselves, and part of that self-awareness involves being part of your family. Children want to make sure they are loved and that their needs are being met.

How children react and relate to one another will greatly depend on their ages. How they get along with each other and handle disagreements will also depend upon how the whole family operates. Your parenting and family patterns play a big role in influencing the way your children will relate to one another.

Depending on the age of your child when the new baby arrives, you can expect different reactions. But no two children are the same, and that is key in both raising your own, and in helping them deal with new siblings.

What Parents Can Do
We know that sibling rivalry is normal and to be expected. So, what can parents do to make sure the rivalry doesn't get out of hand and that all their children feel accepted and loved? There are a variety of strategies you can follow.

Prepare for New Baby
When a new baby is on the way, know that there will be changes. Make sure your expectations are realistic. You will have to change your family life. This translates into having a different amount of time to spend with the child or children you already have. Actively prepare your children for their new sibling.

Younger toddlers and some preschoolers may not really understand that a new child will be coming. However, you can still set the stage beforehand by talking about the arrival of the new sister or brother. For school-age children, you can talk about what it will be like to have a new addition to the family and include them in getting ready. Even if children are excited about having a new baby in the family, there will still be some challenging times.

Helping Siblings Develop Healthy Relationships
Once the baby is born, the fun begins. Here are suggestions to help siblings have a healthier relationship.
  • Try to understand how your child is feeling and thinking. Children do not think like adults. Telling them that babies need more attention may not make sense to them. Instead, make sure you make time for them as well.
  • Allow your children to voice their feelings and help give words to them as well. Being able to express disappointment, anger, and jealousy is helpful to children as they learn to manage their feelings.
  • Prepare your older child for when the younger one starts to explore. Help your child to develop patience with their younger sibling.
  • Allow siblings to try to work things out as they get to be school-age or older. However, never allow hitting, name-calling, or being abusive. Give suggestions to help them compromise.
  • Be careful of young children around babies. Young children do not have impulse control and may strike out and hit without any notice.
  • Know that children who are tired, hungry or not active are more likely to start fights or be difficult.
  • Let your older child help take care of the baby while you are present. Assign him a special role.
  • Do not compare your children. Comparing skills or achievements can affect a child's self-esteem.
  • Have older children teach their younger sibling a game or show them how to do something.
  • Give positive attention to your children. Some children pick fights because they don't know how else to get attention.
  • When children argue, listen to both sides. When in doubt, get involved.
  • Be fair to your children. Remember: being fair to children is not the same as treating them equally. Treat your children as individuals and in line with their age.
  • Encourage children to talk things out and compromise. Give them words to use to express themselves, especially young children. "I am angry." "My feelings are hurt." "I am upset because I can't do what Brian is doing."
  • Be an example to your children. How you and the rest of your family handle disagreements, anger, and other feelings will likely be how your children handle them as well.
As with anything regarding children, there isn't a cookie-cutter approach, but there are some basic principles that will help in most cases. Knowing your children as individuals will always help you to know the best approach for them.

Submitted by: Joanne Nelson, Project Director, MOCCRRN Mid Missouri

Reprinted with permission from “The Daily Parent”, a newsletter for parents funded by the Citi Foundation and produced by NACCRRA. Copyright 2008. NACCRRA, Arlington, VA. All rights reserved.

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