Sibling Rivalry and Our High Hopes for Two Brothers
When we found out we were having a second boy, my husband and I were pretty thrilled. There just seems something special about two boys roaming the world together, having each others’ backs and being good brothers.
Those of you laughing already see where this is going. Porter and Oscar are only 3 and 1, and already we’ve endured some pretty cutthroat behaviour. Oscar can tap into a terrifying bloodcurdling scream whenever his older brother comes within vicinity of HIS food or HIS toys or HIS piece of lint that he is playing with on the carpet. And Porter is no innocent victim. He once flat out attacked his brother with a viciousness normally reserved for when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battle Shredder (one of the many ways he tried to justify it). And it was a sad day when a hurt Porter announced he no longer wanted to be Oscar’s best friend.
Sibling rivalries abound in almost every family. I have an older sister and luckily we managed a pretty loving, cordial relationship. I think an age gap of four years, two very different personalities and the undeniable fact that she is the Best Big Sister Ever contributed to this (you might think yours is the best but you’re wrong). Still, we had our moments – but like the time we were in a screaming match and I slammed a door with glass panels that shattered and we banded together to clean up and explain away the damage to mom – we always landed in a good spot.
My husband and his younger sister took a while longer to land in a good spot. He admittedly had jealousy and a bit of a mean streak throughout their childhood, and he owes it all to her caring and laidback nature that they now have a great relationship.
So what is going on with sibling rivalry?
Alyson Schafer – therapist, author and internationally acclaimed parenting expert based out of Aurora, ON – has some answers. Alyson says that almost all sibling fights are a creative way to get parent attention. Think of the squeaky wheel. But there are ways to cure a squeaky wheel (take away the motivation to squeak) versus simply treating it (giving the attention they crave). Obviously you could also replace a squeaky wheel, but since this is an analogy about children I’ve left that option out (though like many parents I have contemplated it).
Alyson offers up some great tried and true approaches to manage sibling rivalry in her Savvymom.ca post. Here’s a brief overview:
- Ignore it – teach your children not to be squeaky. Make a conscious effort to recognize when they play nicely and tell them you like to be around them when they do. When they act up with each other, explain it’s not fun for you and leave. The kids doing it for attention will learn pretty quick that it backfires.
- Put them in the same boat – force them to work together. For example, if they fight over a toy they both lose it until they can agree on how to share it.
- Don’t compare – seems obvious but a common pitfall is to motivate through comparison. “Oscar ate his whole dinner, so why are you struggling to eat one bite and seem to have an unspoken agenda to go to bed hungry and crying to ruin the night of everyone in this household again?” Or something to that effect. Read more about our adventures in picky eating here.
- Listen without fixing – you can be empathetic but don’t get pulled into their business. “Sounds like you were sad that your brother took away that lint you were playing with. Here’s a hug. I know it’s hard but this is something you need to speak to Porter about, and if you can’t resolve the problem unfortunately mom gets the lint.” It’s not your job to make them get along. Force it to be theirs.
- Family meetings – hold regular meetings to provide a time to calmly address issues that can’t get sorted out in the moment. This is not about assigning blame or choosing discipline. It is a problem-solving exercise with all family members there to provide ideas and support.
Hoping these strategic approaches will work in our household as our boys get older and potentially more rivalrous (dictionary.com assures me this is a real word). We might never get back to our dream of best-buddy-brothers-forever-and-ever but I think there are great ideas here to support a healthy, dynamic and loving sibling relationship.
Melissa lives in Calgary and is the Community Marketing Manager for Kids & Company in Alberta and BC. Her vision of what she would be like as a mom was shattered three years ago when she discovered nothing ever goes as planned for parents, but laughter and community sees you through. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.