SIBLING RIVALRY: What Role Do Parents Play in Keeping It in Check?
What do sibling rivalry and scarcity have in common?
Much of sibling rivalry really stems from the fear that there is not enough to go around. In the law of survival it makes perfect sense that a child would do her best to push her sibling aside so that she is sure to get what she needs. Parents can counter that innate fear by making sure that each child gets enough attention and her share of resources.
What it really comes down to, though, is teaching a philosophy of sufficiency rather than the tension of scarcity vs. abundance. If a person sees the world as black and white—as I am one of the haves or one of the have nots—there is always the fear of loss on the one hand and the need to grab on the other. This produces an internal anxiety which not only sets up a rivalry among siblings but carries insecure attitudes towards money and other resources into adulthood.
Teach your kids: Once the bucket is full, you don’t need one more drop of water—or love
When kids learn that what they have is sufficient—whether that is clothes or food or parental attention, they let go of worry. Knowing that everyone will get what he needs means that kids don’t have to get equal resources in order to feel secure. Think of it as a bucket. A full bucket of water is sufficient; there is no need for one extra drop of water. A full bucket of water is enough, so you don’t really need one more drop, and it will probably go to waste. It may even be unpleasant. Consider how it feels to keep drinking water when you are no longer thirsty. You feel bloated and tight and perhaps like you want to throw up. Even very little kids can see that if you keep adding water to the bucket, all it does is flow over. This begins to give them the sense that there can be too much of something--even a good thing.
Another activity you can use to teach the concept of sufficiency is lighting one candle with the flame of another. Tell your child that there is always love to go around. Show how when you use the flame of one candle to light another candle, the first candle has just as much flame as it had before and can be used to light a third candle. And even a fourth and fifth. Some families “pass the love” by lighting a candle for each family member at dinner every night. What a beautiful way to concretely remind a child that there is sufficient love for every one.
Help your kids understand that fair does not mean equal
Developmentally kids go through a stage where they are very concerned with fairness. They tend to believe that fair is the same as equal. They think if Brother has 3 trucks, I must have 3 trucks, too. One way to explore this concept with your kids is to observe your kids at play. Note how many of something do they use. I recently babysat a three-year-old who had his six fire trucks lined up ready to play with. Once he started playing with one, I kept waiting for him to go back for more trucks with the idea that he was putting out a really big fire. He did put out a big fire. But one truck was all he could deal with at a time. Watching him, it became clear to me that 6 firetrucks were certainly sufficient—likely even more than enough. Would he have gotten more pleasure out of an 8th or 9th or 10th firetruck? No! Even if he had a sibling to compete with, there would have been no need for more fire trucks to have a good time. And yet had he a sibling, I imagine that if he is living in the mode of scarcity, he would believe his brother having more took something away from him. If all he needs is one truck to have fun, it is ridiculous to think that his brother having more robs him of his chance for happiness.
Siblings who are reassured that there are sufficient toys—or treats or turns or hugs or whatever precious commodity of the moment—and that they are going to get what they need they learn not to confuse wanting and needing. They let go of having to hoard what they have. Just keep reminding kids (and modeling through your own words and deeds) that they have enough and that they should focus on fully enjoying and appreciating what they do have.
Finally, families that have clear gratitude practices see less sibling rivalry. That is especially true when it comes to love—there is more than enough to go around and as siblings they are especially fortunate because unlike some kids, they have parental love and sibling love! When kids feel and express their gratitude for what they have in the world, they step into the idea of sufficiency.
Teaching your kids the idea of sufficiency does not mean they won't fight.
At different ages and stages, you will need to take extra steps to make each child feel secure. For example, making sure your second child feels fully included in the activities of the new baby being introduced to the household is key. And you will still need to teach both children how to communicate peacefully and how to resolve conflict constructively. It is just human nature that as individuals with different needs and sensitivities rub up against each other, there will be conflict. It takes lots of support to teach kids the empathy and emotional awareness needed to be great friends as well as siblings.
Is Sibling Rivalry Making Your Household Miserable?
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