Diffuse Sibling Rivalry and Create Strong Family Bonds

sibling rivalry

What Do Children Need to Feel in Their Family?

According to Alfred Alder, feeling significant and having a sense of belonging are crucial for humans’ social and emotional well-being.  It is what we all strive for; we want to know that we matter and that we have an important place in the world which for children translates to having an important place in their family.  However, some children do not have a strong sense of self or significance within their family and this shows with sibling rivalry.  Furthermore, a new baby in the family or becoming a blended family with step-siblings can also disrupt any sense of belonging that a child once had.  When children feel insecure about their belonging within their own family, those feelings are inherently reflected in their behaviour.  As a parent this may be very frustrating as you may feel that you are doing everything you can to give each of your children as sense of belonging and significance within your family.  However, one of your children may have decided that if one sibling is known as the “good one – the cooperative one” then the only other significant identity left is to be the “naughty, uncooperative one”.  Breaking these roles can be very difficult.

Love is Infinite and Can Be Shared – The “All My Love” Candle Activity

“Who do you love more?”  “You love my brother/sister more than you love me?”  

The following activity is a beautiful metaphor for demonstrating how love can be shared without being reduced.  This is also a good activity for an only child who feels jealous of a parent’s love for each other.

From Dr. Jane Nelson:

These candles represent our family. (Pick up the Mommy candle.) This is the Mommy candle. (Light the candle.) This flame represents my love.   (Pick up the Daddy candle and light that candle from the Mommy candle.) When I married your Daddy, I gave him all my love, AND I still have all my love left. (Put the Daddy candle in a candle holder and then pick up the candle for your son and light it from the Mommy candle.) When you were born I gave you all my love, and Daddy still has all my love, and I still have all my love left. (Put his candle in a candle holder, pick up the baby candle and light it from the Mommy candle.) When your sister was born, I gave her all my love. You still have all my love, Daddy still has all my love, and I still have all my love left, because that is the way love is. (Put the baby candle and the Mommy candle in candle holders.) Now look at all the bright light we have in our family with all this love.

Top Ten Strategies to Encourage Positive Sibling Relationships

  • 1:1 Dates With Each Child – Put it on the calendar so that each child knows that this is a commitment that will be honoured.  Even if it’s half-an-hour per week it will make a difference.  Find time to go for a walk together, a hot drink together or take part in some child-directed imaginative play.  For this date time to be truly effective, be sure your cell phone/computer/telephone is off limits.  No child is going to feel that she/he has your undivided attention if you are looking at your iphone or Blackberry while spending this time together.
  • Increase Cooperation not Competition – Don’t pit your children against each other.  It may seem as though jobs get done quicker if you make it a competition, but this is all at a great cost.  It creates superior and inferior feelings between siblings which will ultimately be much more time consuming.  Try giving appreciations around the dinner table or at the start of your family meetings.  In day to day conversations, use the language “I appreciate it when you…”
  • Family Meetings – When everyone has a voice and is working together this creates a sense of belonging and significance within a family.  No time to add family meetings to your already busy life?  Make them part of a family dinner, for example every Friday or Saturday night when you already sit down as a family  to eat.
  • Bed-time Routines for Each Child – As a child falls asleep, he/she is going to feel a greater sense of belonging and significance if he/she received some special cuddle 1:1 cuddle time/back scratch/story.  It is not the same feeling of connection to put oneself to bed or get the same story and quick kiss good-night as a sibling without time to really connect 1:1 with a parent – even 5 minutes 1:1 cuddle time with a parent makes a big difference.
  • Being Respectful – It’s okay to be mad but it’s not okay to be hurtful through rude words or physical altercations.  If a child is angry with his sibling, it’s important that you listen to his/her feelings, and validate them.  If you try to convince him/her that these feelings aren’t true, the open and honest communication will shut down.  Being respectful also applies to one’s belongings and one’s personal space.  It’s an important life skill to ask before you borrow, return items to the same place and condition in which you found them, and stay out of a person’s personal space if that is their request.
  • The Golden Rule – practice what you preach.  Treat others as you wish to be treated.  Teach children this rule and role model it yourself towards your children and your spouse.  It’s okay to have disagreements but it’s not okay to be disrespectful and name-calling.
  • Avoid Casting Your Children into Roles According to Their Birth Order – the oldest should not be the youngest child’s “other parent”.  They should not always have to look after the younger child(ren) nor be the one with all the responsibilities.  The younger children can help out with chores just like the oldest.  The oldest should not be the confidante to either parent.
  • Facilitate Problem-Solving But Don’t Take Sides – Have each child share their feelings and tell his/her side of the story.  When they are young help them learn the skills to conflict resolution.  Teach them win-win strategies such as setting a timer to share a toy, trading toys, dividing a treat (one person does the dividing, the other gets to choose), taking turns – we’ll play your game first and then play my game a little longer
  • Take Care of the Basics – Sleep, Hunger, Health, Down-time, and Personal Space Time.  Intervene with an activity if you sense trouble brewing – create a distraction.
  • Teach Self-Regulation Skills/Anger Managment Strategies – Teach alternatives to hitting, scratching, hair-pulling, name-calling etc.  You can be as mad as you want but not hurtful.  You can play drums or another musical instrument, draw a picture of your feelings, write in a journal, walk away and take 10 deep breaths, get an adult, do some physical exercise.  Teach your children what is happening inside their brain when they’re angry, and therefore why it’s better to not say anything until they’ve calmed down and the PFC – the thinking part of the brain is able to function again.
Have a wonderful week strengthening and sweetening your relationship with each child,

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