THE UPS AND DOWNS OF SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS
Susan Ginsberg Ed.D.
would you like your kids to feel toward one another? When a group of parents
was asked this question recently, their answers were loving, protective,
respectful, sharing, caring, tolerant, understanding, and supportive.
when they were asked how they themselves had felt as children toward
their siblings, their answers were negative as well as positive: jealous,
resentful, but at the same time loving and admiring.
are we so anxious to have our kids get along? As children, many of us
longed for a close sibling relationship, or if we were an only child
we fantasized about having a brother or sister to play with.
of us with siblings were told by our parents that we should love each
other and not fight. And most of us remember from our own childhood
how hurtful a sibling's anger or negative remark could be and how it
stayed with us for years.
reality, of course, is that feelings of love/hate, cooperation/competition,
and protectiveness/rejection are part of the normal interaction between
siblings. As a parent, you shouldnĦt feel that you are doing a bad job
because you canĦt trust your 3-year-old alone in a room with your new
baby or your older kids seem to be endlessly squabbling. But itĦs helpful
to understand that sibling rivalry is not all negative and to learn
some ways to handle it.
IT ALL ABOUT?
children tend to think about love as a limited commodity: that is, parents
have only so much of it and if you have to share it with more people,
youĦll get less. Older kids often compete for parentsĦ time and attention
when they fight. The issue of fairness looms large and stays with us
even when weĦre grown up. My adult daughter still reminds me how unfair
it was that her younger sister was allowed to wear stockings three years
earlier than she was.
NOT ALL BAD
there is a positive side to sibling rivalry. Drs. Julius and Zelda Segal,
both psychologists, sum it up neatly. Through their adversarial roles,
children learn a great deal about handling human relationships-how to
stand up for their own rights, how to compete without acting hostile
and aggressive, how to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise,
and how to lose gracefully.
Siblings also learn valuable lessons about reliance in human relationships,"
says Cathy Rindner Tempelsman, author of Child-Wise,"that we can feel
terribly angry at people and then feel loving towards them again with
no loss of intimacy.
OUT ON THE RIGHT FOOT
a new baby comes home, parents are often asked how the older child is
reacting. We usually respond, Oh, he loves his baby sister. ItĦs not so simple. A sibling
may feel loving and protective and then will tell you to take the
baby back. Don't deny or dismiss this childs feelings or signs that
he or she is upset. As Tempelsman says: The more attuned you are
to your older child's ambivalence, the easier it will be for that child
to accept the new baby. Here are some other ideas for ways to help
to put their feelings into words. Books on sibling rivalry, available
for children of all ages, are good conversation starters.
about the advantages of being the older child and how much he or
she can do such as playing games, sleeping over at Grandma's house,
and so forth.
your older child first
before you give any outgrown blankets or toys to the baby. They may
mean more to the child than you might think.
that it takes time for a young child to grasp the meaning of having
a sibling. Author Anna Quindlen eloquently described her older sonĦs
slow realization: I think it began one day when the younger one needed
me more and I turned to him and said: "You know, Quin, I'm Christopher's
mommy, too". The look that passed over his face was the one I imagine
usually accompanies the discovery of a dead body in the den: shock,
denial, horror. "And Daddy is Christopher's daddy," he gasped.
When I confirmed this he began to cry--wet, sad, sobbing.
FOR HANDLING OLDER SIBLING
fact is, sibling rivalry canĦt be wished or talked or reasoned away,
but here are some suggestions for keeping it within bounds.
younger kids are, the more you will find yourself soothing or separating
them. As they get older, try to stay out of squabbles. Encourage them
to come up with their own solutions. Ellen Galinsky, co-author of The
Preschool Years, suggests saying,I'm more interested in how you
solve this problem together than who started it.
you do intervene,
do so calmly and neutrally without assuming that one child is the Àbully
and the other is the Àvictim. ItĦs futile to try to get to the bottom
of every fight, but watch for patterns of fighting so you can avoid
them in the future.
some basic rules
and stick with them. Hurting each other is never okay. Vicki Lansky,
author of Practical Parenting Tips for the First Five Years, suggests that no Àput-downs
should be allowed. ÀYou make me mad is okay but "YouĦre a stupid baby"
may not mean the same and each child has different needs. Nancy Samalin, author of
Loving Each One Best, says, Cries of itĦs not fair aren't about portions or turns
but about resenting having to share your attention and affection. Treat
each child as being unique rather than equal.
from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)