Sibling Rivalry – you can never treat them equally, but you can treat them uniquely
All behaviour has a reason-how does the child feel & what are they thinking?
This is the topic that comes up for every parent, and it is what drives much mis-behavior from our children. Let’s try see it differently? Sibling Rivalry comes from child’s insecurity about their position in the family. Some troubled behaviour comes from inner turmoil and if you feel that the two most important people in your life love your sister/brother more that you, it impacts on how you feel and all poor behaviour is showing you that life is difficult for your child or teen! Compassion is the No 1 response to challenging behaviour and 1:1 time is the solution for sibling rivalry.
Children spill the beans; but often we don’t hear the feeling behind their words
“You love her more than me! Everything was fine till she came along, now everyone hates me!”
Sibling Rivalry: Child feel insecure about being loved
Imagine your husband comes home tonight with a tall Swedish blond and says: “You know I love you so much; I decided to get another wife just like you! But here’s the good news; you’re actually going to LOVE HER!” . That’s how your child feels; jealous and insecure that you love the other person more. How would you respond? Clingy, insecure, demanding and you probably wouldn’t be very nice to the Swedish blonde either! It is exactly the same for your child. They are more demanding and engage in negative behaviour as they are feeling bad about themselves, to which you respond negatively, or even punish, making your child feel even worse and less loved; and their behaviour escalates.
Instead of Time out – give Time Into the child’s feeling
When our child is troubled or troubling – they are not out to make your life difficult, but are trying to show you how difficult ow they life is for them. Therefore, if they feel insecure about another sibling being more loved – that is their perception of how they see things and till you respond to that, nothing will improve.
Time In versus Time Out
As Weininger (an originator of the Time In technique )says about Time Out:”We are in danger of withdrawing from a child just at the very time they need help with their feelings”. When I do Corporate talks and ask parents to imagine you were 2/3/4/5/6 years of age and very upset and distressed and you were put out in the hall and forced to sit on the step; over and over as you cried, till you stayed there; how would you feel? The answers always come back : Upset, angry, confused, alone, abandoned, bad about myself etc etc. However, when I suggest how would you feel if your mother gave you a little time into the feeling’s that underlie your behaviour? A moment to sit with the child, to talk together about why she is behaving that way. I find this works for me, when I sit calmly with my child “Sounds like you’re upset; what’s up honey? I’m really trying to understand whats going on for you; you’re always such a good girl, I know you must be upset about something”. Parents answer back: ” I would feel understood, loved, accepted, heard, calmer,cared for, validated, cherished”.
If a child is too young to express it in words
You will need to be creative and use puppets or ask them to draw how they feel in a picture. Maybe if you put into words how you think your child feels and use a puppet .Act it out: “it was nicer before the baby came, I had you all to myself, now I feel sad sometimes” and ask your child to do a ‘thumbs up’ if that’s how they feel. “Do you wish he were not here? You wish you were the only one, you get angry when I spend time with him. You want me to be just with you.You were so angry you hit the baby, I cannot allow you to do that; but you can tell me when you feel like that (use your words, not actions) and I will make time for you; when you feel left out.”
Siblings without rivalry
You can never love your children equally; however you can love them uniquely. To every child; ensure you convey the uniqueness of the relationship, not the sameness. When you are with one of your children, be fully present, even if you stroke their hand, listen fully, just make them feel that there is no one like them in the world, and you will find a reduction in sibling rivalry. Time out however may stop the behaviour but it only drives the feelings underground with no safe way for your child to show you how they are feeling or any change or getting their needs met.
Empathy is key
You need to be in touch also with how your child feels and encourage them to express how they feel – in words- not actions against another.
Being in touch with your feelings too is a vital part of parenting. Therefore, if you tune into how you feel and see you’re about to ‘lose it’ , this allows you to Take an Action for yourself, not against the Child. An action for self is to move away from the child and breathe until you calm down, go into the garden for a minute. Be real with your child and say “I love you and don’t want to get angry, I need a minute to calm down” teaches them what to do when they feel that way.
Hit the PAUSE Button
This may mean mean moving away from the child, focusing on some really deep slow breathing until you calm down. Hitting the PAUSE button is vital as otherwise our parenting is Reactive instead of being Proactive. Role modelling this teaches your child to do the same.
Acknowledge the Feeling
“Do you wish the baby was not here? Do you wish you were the only one? Sounds like you get angry when I spend time with him. Do you feel you just want me to be with just you.” This empathy is like standing in your child’s shoes and imagining how they feel. It lets the air out of their tyres and takes the heat our of their emotions. It gives them a sense of feeling understood and it will help them to manage their strong feelings and regulate them. ” You seem angry, when you calm down I can talk to you”.
Meet his needs for time & attention:(1:1 time)
Ask if there’s something special he would like to do rather than you decide. You may be surprised, he may wish to bake a cake, a trip to the park or to play a game. Ensure that your interaction is about ‘Catching him being good’ so you reinforce his good behaviour, particularly when playing with siblings. Usually building in 1:1 time is all that needs as well as positive attention to have siblings without rivalry.
Responding to your child challenging behaviour
When he feels right, he will behave right – so your Kindness & Compassion is your No 1 response
We need to love our child unconditionally, this means when they misbehave, we separate child from behaviour and our No 1 response is Kindness and Compassion as we know when he feels right, he won’t need the behaviour he needed to get your attention. Punishing would only serve to shut behaviour down and feeling would go underground.
One Toy – who get it?
Resolving conflict is a sophisticated life skill that we need to teach them so how we role model is crucial. Therefore, “BE QUIET!!!” teaches them only that shouting is how I respond when frustrated and that it is okay. Instead, help them to resolve “How can you sort it so you can both be happy? I will be here when you come up with an idea”. If they fail to , give them a choice that if they cannot resolve together, they toy is put away on the fridge and they need to play with something else.
Fighting – Separate, stay calm, use humour and distract
You need to separate them – but you need to be CALM, as your behaviour will be mirrored in their behaviour. Using strong eye contact, and a low voice, teach them to manage their strong feelings and don’t favour one over the other. Use DISTRACTION & HUMOUR to lighten the atmosphere. Never get involved in ‘he did this/she did it first’ as the parent always seems to get it wrong as she may not have witnessed.
The more attention you give the less they will demand
Give the attention first thing – when you come in from work as they have missed you all day. When you co operate with their need of you, you will find they will become much more co operative with your needs of them.
I know this from personal experience – if my child is not co operating with me – at some level I may not be aware of – I have not co operated with her need of me – when I do that – she will mirror back co operation to me. Guaranteed!
Discipline, with Love using: ABCCC
A Acknowledge the Feeling: “I know he is annoying you”
B Boundary: “But we don’t hit in this family”
C Choice: “If you choose to –, you choose not to have the TV later, you decide”
C Consequence: Apply if necessary
C Consistent: Be consistent