Creative Child

Stop This One Thing to End Sibling Rivalry

by Rebecca Eanes


While it is true that children are born with certain natural abilities and personality traits, we need to be careful not to peg them so that they may grow and flourish in many areas and learn to play many roles. As Faber and Mazlish put it, “Children are born with different personality traits. But as parents we have the power to influence those traits, to give nature a helping hand. Let’s use our power wisely. Let’s not place our children in roles that will defeat them.” The authors say the key is freeing our children to change and helping them get unstuck from the roles that constrain them. Below are 4 ways to accomplish this.

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  1. Treat your children not as they are but as you hope they become. This frees you to look at your children differently, to see the traits and behaviors that need to be affirmed and those that need to be strengthened. This requires first a shift in your own thinking and perspective. Rather than seeing your child’s aggression and pointing out the naughtiness of it, you can shift to see his capabilities of kindness and gentleness and affirm those qualities, drawing them out. Even when children are displaying their very worst behavior, it is better to affirm their positive qualities than it is to scold and punish them, because punishing them reaffirms the naughty role. When we see hope in them, they can see hope in themselves, and this helps them change and do better. (Read about becoming a light reflector here.) Here are some practice phrases adapted from Siblings Without Rivalry:
    * Rather than “You’re being a bully, go to your room!” try “You know how to get what you want without using physical force.”
    *Instead of “You’re naughty” try “You know how to be kind and I expect you to start right now.”
    *Rather than “Poor baby, is your brother being mean to you again?” try “You can tell your brother ‘Daddy bought it for me, it’s mine!’”
    *Instead of “Did you take your brother’s ball? Why are you so mean?” try “Your brother wants his ball back.”
  2. Treat each child as a whole person. She’s more than an athlete. He’s more than a musician. She’s more than a “problem student.” He’s more than shy. She’s more than aggressive. He’s more than smart. Sometimes we set our focus on one blaring trait, and it becomes all we see. In doing so, we miss a lot of wonderful things about our kids, and because we miss them, they may miss them, too. Children are often so much more than we give them credit for. Always be on the lookout for positive traits and behaviors to affirm. 
  3. Celebrate without fueling competition. In her book Peaceful Parent, Peaceful Siblings, Dr. Laura Markham says, “All children deserve to be celebrated. This can be tricky, though, since achievements of a sibling can be a hot button for children who aren’t feeling very good about themselves.” She says the solution is not to avoid celebrating your children but to make sure there’s enough celebration to go around. She states, “Kids actually like it when their sibling who worked hard is praised as long as they think they’ll also be praised for working hard.” Make celebration a part of your family culture by toasting each person’s achievements at dinner, expecting kids to go to each other’s performances and events, and getting everyone involved in birthday party planning. 

Tend to your relationship with each individual child. Connection is the key to parenting, so it’s important to maintain a strong bond. Often, when we are viewing a child as “difficult” or “a problem,” we can let our connection slip. Likewise, when we have to focus so much of our time and attention on one child, our connection with his or her siblings can fail as well. Spending quality time with each child and speaking their love languages will go a long way in stopping rivalry in its tracks.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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