The Wilson’s two children don’t like each other. The Archer girls publicly put each other down. The Gonzalez boys pout if they aren’t first, don’t win, or don’t do better than the other. This condition is called sibling rivalry and in each of these cases it was unconsciously created by the parents.
Do you want to make sure you don’t inadvertently encourage sibling rivalry in your family? Do you want to avoid the ways many parents promote tension among their children? If so, read on and consider the top ten ways parents promote sibling rivalry without even knowing it. Then, if you decide sibling rivalry is not something you want to encourage in your family, do the opposite.
Compare your children to one another and let them know you are doing it. Say things like, “Your brother never acts that way,” and “If your sister can do it, why can’t you?” Holding one child up as the model and using that model to encourage better behavior on the part of the sibling is a sure way to create resentment and divisiveness among your children.
Put one child in charge of the other. Having to watch a younger brother while the parent runs out to the mail box or convenience store can create resentment. Making the older child babysit during the summer while you are working is asking for sibling conflict. The older one will resent the fact that he has to do the sitting and the younger one will resent that he has to be watched, in his view, by a peer.
Allow humorous teasing or gentle and loving putdowns. There is no such thing as a loving or gentle putdown. Teasing is not funny! Making fun of someone or having a laugh at someone else’s expense no matter how small still hurts. Teasing is never appropriate in loving families. A joke is not a joke if it is not a joke. When teasing occurs, someone ends up the recipient. That person often finds themselves in a defensive position and feels as if he has to attack back to create balance and save face.
Always give the younger child hand-me-downs. This ritual, if done often, can create a feeling of being a second-hand person or less-than the other child who gets the new things. When this occurs the younger one often strives to be first or get more attention. Yes, the economics in some families make hand-me-downs a necessity. In these cases make sure the younger child gets something new occasionally and the older one gets some passed on clothing as well.
Reward tattling. When children tattle, follow up by punishing those that were tattled on. This is a sure way to promote sibling rivalry. Refuse to listen to both sides of the story to further increase sibling rivalry. Create an atmosphere where the first person to get his story out is in the “right”. If you want sibling rivalry growing in your home, do not invest time teaching your children when it is important to tell (health and safety issues) and when and how they can handle the situation on their own.
Ask your kids to spy. Tell your son, “I want to know if your sister uses the phone while I am gone.” Inform your younger one, “If he splashes you again let me know.” Tell one child, “The computer is off limits while I am gone. Your sister is going to be watching you to see if you follow the rules.”
Buy and play many competitive games that require one winner and many losers. Focus strongly on the importance of winning and downplay the process of playing, learning, and having fun. This way your children who have lost can fight back in other ways being the only ones who know a new game is being played. The new game is called getting even.
Create even more competition in your family. Design artificial competition to manipulate a desired behavior such as seeing who can get ready for bed first. Use lots of competitive parent talk including, “The last one up the stares is a rotten egg,” or “The first one with their coat on gets to pick where they want to sit.”
Attempt to be fair. Make sure everyone has the same amount of orange drink in their cup or the same number of French fries on their plate. Did you cut equal amounts of cake? Even when you do children don’t always see it that way. An effort to be consistently fair will create an atmosphere where the children are constantly checking to make sure they have the same or slightly more than the other child.
Run your house like a democracy. Put every decision to a vote. If two of the three kids always like to eat out at a pizza place and the third one likes Mexican food, the one who likes Mexican food will get out voted every time. Refuse to protect interests of a minority voting family member by voting to resolve disputes at all times.
Put these ideas to work in your family today and it won’t be long before sibling rivalry will be firmly present in your home. Once you have it thriving, call up your brother or sister and brag about how competitive your children are. Challenge your own sibling to a contest. See who can create the best rivalry among your children. You just might win, but don’t be surprised if your sister gets mad and pouts or attempts to get even.
About the Authors: Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. They are two of the world’s foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for parents. To sign up for it or obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.personalpowerpress.com.