Monday, May 23, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

In any family with more than one child, there will be some degree of sibling rivalry. With an adopted child in the mix with biological children, the dynamic can be even more painful.

"Fairness" always seems to top the list of disputes among siblings. "His glass has more milk in it!" one child will cry, sure now that his sibling holds the place of esteem in the household. While this is exhausting, it provides numerous opportunities for children to learn about their place in the family, as well as how Mom and Dad deal with these situations. Let's take a peek into my living room on a recent week night.

The boys are wrestling with Daddy while I pet the cat on my lap and cheer at appropriate times. Mae desperately wants in on the wrestling action, though my husband reminds her that she tends to get hurt during their rough play. She joins in anyway and is kicked in the face almost instantly. While she sobs on my lap, my oldest hurts his back and wants his turn to be comforted by me. Chaos ensues.

From "Daddy doesn't love me; he never plays with me" to "It's not fair that Mae has been in your lap for so long; it's my turn," all play stops as we take the time to re-explain what "fair" is.

The way we've been handling these frequent fairness issues is by sitting the kids down and talking through exactly what is going on in the moment. It seems, for my children, that generalization does not work in this situation. We reassure Mae that her boo-boo is OK but ask her if she wants an icepack. This validates her injury but also takes the burden of "fixing it" off of me and on to her.

After she is set up next to me on the couch with ice and her blanket, we turn to Ted. A brief back rub and a talk about how, in minute-by-minute detail, his back got hurt are all he needs, and he is on his way again. All of that took about three minutes, at which point Sam is ready for a snuggle, just because. I indulge him, and we all agree that it's time to move into our bedtime routine.

With all my children, snuggle time is the most valuable way to fill up their "love tanks," if you will. Whether it's just a snuggle on the couch, a treasured lap seat during a story, a before-bed massage or a bath time chat, that one-on-one time is key to my children's sense of fairness and well being. As you can imagine, Mae has always needed more - more touch, more hugs, more kisses, more reassurance. As long as I am careful to include what the boys need too, all three of them can end the day feeling like it's been a fair one. And sometimes, that is all they need.

Please chime in! How do you navigate sibling rivalry in your home? Share your tips or stories in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

It seems we still navigate sibling rivalry at 13 & 16! I think is goes on for years and years. We deal with our issues by identifying what is fair and move on from there. We have to have equal amounts of chores for the both of them or it becomes an issue. Believe it or not I have recently heard the "he's got more milk than me" argument!!

patricia said...

Since you were an only child, Ellen, I never had to deal with this issue ~ until I began teaching. Now, with a class of 20-something college kids, the issue remains. Maybe it's a necessary part of the human make-up, this insistence that life be fair, that equality reign supreme. If so, we are all winners!


Dawn said...

It is nice to read your blog again, I don't think I have checked in since you came home from China. As an only child myself I feel inept at dealing with sibling rivalry which is new for us. We brought our Son home in October and he is now two, we are dealing with a lot of "you love him more" "why does baby get all the attention". I don't have any models for sibling relationships and my mother's siblings abused each other although they are close now, so I am reluctant to use her advice. My husband and his sister don't have much of a relationship at all so I am not sure his sibling parenting is great either. I did buy the book Siblings Without Rivalry but I haven't read it yet, hopefully I can get some good tricks.

Ellen said...

Hi Dawn! So nice to hear from you! I was an only child myself and it's been quite a learning experience for me. But I truly believe that siblings are such a wonderful and healthy part of a child's life - we just need to learn how to deal with their squabbles! We need to get our girls together again - hoping to set something up for the summer!