For most parents, fostering close relationships between our kids is one of our greatest concerns. We want our children to get along well and show love to one another!
We definitely should be concerned when their disagreements and rivalry fester. As much as disagreements are inevitable, they must not be too constant and we must prevent strife and malice at all cost.
Mrs Judith Omoye was baffled recently when her daughter asked her why she loved her brother more than her. A few minutes after the startling question, Omoye said she couldn’t utter a word. She was speechless, confused and troubled, unable to gather the right words for a response. Mrs Omoye, 36, told PUNCH correspondent during a chat:
“My daughter is seven and her brother is four, and I couldn’t possibly imagine that I had been showing any preferential treatment for my son. Her question really troubled me.”
After failing to recall any occasion where she showed her son any preferential treatment, Omoye said she called her daughter into her room to have a discussion with her. She said,
“I couldn’t just dismiss such a question so I invited her to my room when her brother was sleeping. I told my husband about the question and he asked me to first have a conversation with our daughter.
“When I asked her where she got the impression that I loved her brother more than her, she opened up on a lot of things that got me thinking if she was an adult already. She accused me of spending more time with my son than her; she also said I usually shouted at her whereas I never shouted at my son the same way.
“She also mentioned one occasion when I bought a bigger toy for my son, complaining that hers was smaller. She also mentioned that anytime she and her brother had a quarrel, I always cautioned her and not her brother. She listed other things I did that gave her the impression.”
By the time her daughter was done listing all the ‘sins,’ Omoye said she first apologised to the little girl before giving explanations for her actions. Omoye said,
“I was at least relieved that she poured out her heart to me. Then I had to explain my actions at all the events she mentioned. For instance, I remembered I truly once bought a bigger toy for her brother but that was because, at the shop where I bought them, the boys’ toys were different from the girls’ toys. As a matter of fact, her toy was even a bit more expensive than her brother’s.
“Also, I usually scold her more when they fight because she is the elder. I just want her to regard her brother as the little one. I also tend to spend more time with her brother because he needs more help than her, who is more independent.”
Even with the explanations, Omoye said she apologised to her daughter for feeling the way she felt and promised to change afterwards. Omoye further said:
“After our discussion, she felt relieved, and from that day, I also became more conscious of the way I treated them. I must admit the conversation really opened up my eyes to where most parents usually have issues with their children,”
“I also told my husband of the incident and he too said he would become more careful of how he treated our children thereafter,” she added.
According to child psychologists, sibling rivalry is bound to happen at one point or another, even if when kids tend to get along each other.
Different things can cause siblings to engage in rivalry. Most of them experience some degree of jealousy or competition, and this can snowball into squabbles and bickering.
A Us-based child therapist and President, Society of Paediatric Psychology, Dr Jennifer Pendley, said factors which might influence how often kids fought and how severe the fighting turned included evolving needs and individual temperaments. Dr. Pendley wrote on kidshealth.org.:
“It’s natural for kids’ changing needs, anxieties, and identities to affect how they relate to one another. For example, toddlers are naturally protective of their toys and belongings and are learning to assert their will, which they’ll do at every turn. So if a baby brother or sister picks up the toddler’s toy, the older child may react aggressively.
School-age kids often have a strong concept of fairness and equality, so might not understand why siblings of other ages are treated differently or feel like one child gets preferential treatment.
Teenagers, on the other hand, are developing a sense of individuality and independence and might resent helping with household responsibilities, taking care of younger siblings, or even having to spend time together. All of these differences can influence the way kids fight with one another.”
Pendley noted that sibling rivalry, though could be bothersome, often helped children learn how to negotiate, solve problems, and understand others. She and other child development experts suggested the following ways to avoid rivalry among siblings.
Spend time with all your children
A child psychologist, Stacey Rogers, said spending time with all children could help avoid rivalry.
“Many parents don’t have time to spend with their children, which is the best way to control children’s conflict at home. Spending time with the children makes them feel important and feel they have your attention.
“Thus, they will feel no need to compete due to the strong bonding you will create. There are many ways to spend your time with your kids. For example, playing with them, watching movies together or reading them a storybook makes them forget their jealousy and be each brother’s keeper,” Rogers wrote on kids4planetearth.org.
Treat the children equally
Rogers noted that one of the mistakes parents often made was making one child feel unique over the other, as this usually resulted in competition between them.
“For instance, if the children fight, don’t start looking for who was right and who was wrong. If you want to punish them, make sure all of them get the punishment. In times of buying clothes or toys, make sure you get something for each of them. That way, your kids will feel both loved and will rarely engage themselves in any conflict,” she said.
A Melbourne, Australia-based organisation, Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services, also advised against making any child feel special than others.
“Try to treat your children as equally as possible (not always easy!) and ensure that each child is allocated a fair division of chores and privileges. It is important to make each child feel special, so provide individual attention to each child,” the organisation said in an article on melbournechildpsychology.com.au.
ALSO READ: 9 Ways To Deal With Sibling Rivalry
Give them equal opportunity
According to Rogers, children need space to have fun and do their own thing like playing with their favourite friends.
“Allow them to do their thing. You will realise that once children go to play with their friends, they will come back and discuss their fun moments with you, and this brings about bonding, which is essential in ensuring that they don’t have conflicts,” she said.
Don’t always intervene when they fight
As parents, Pendley said whenever possible, it was advisable not to get involved when children fought. She said to step in only if there was a danger of physical harm.
“If you always intervene, you risk creating other problems. The kids may start expecting your help and wait for you to come to the rescue rather than learning to work out the problems on their own.
“There’s also the risk that inadvertently makes it appear to one child that another is always being ‘protected,’ which could foster even more resentment. By the same token, rescued kids may feel that they can get away with more because they’re always being ‘saved’ by a parent,” she said.
If concerned by the language used or name-calling when kids fight, Pendley said it was important to coach them on using the right language when there were issues.
“Even then, encourage them to resolve the crisis themselves. If you do step in, try to resolve problems with your kids, not for them,” she added.
Know what to do when children fight
An Ibadan, Oyo State-based child psychologist, Dr Funmilola Oyebode, said when getting involved when kids fought, there were some steps to consider. She said,
“Separate the kids until they are calm. Sometimes, it is best just to give them space for a little while and not immediately rehash the conflict. Otherwise, the fight can escalate again. If you want to make their fight a learning experience, wait until the emotions have died down.
“When you are resolving conflict, don’t put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame. It takes two to fight; anyone who is involved is partly responsible.
“Next, try to set up a ‘win-win’ situation so that each child gains something. When they both want the same toy, perhaps give them a game they could play together instead.”
Oyebode said as kids coped with disputes, they would also learn important skills that would serve them for life such as how to value another person’s perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and control aggressive impulses.
Be their role models
Pendley said the way parents resolved problems and disagreements usually set a strong example for their kids.
“So if you and your spouse work through conflicts in a way that is respectful, productive, and not aggressive, you increase the chances that your children will adopt those tactics when they run into problems with one another. If your kids see you routinely shout, slam doors, and loudly argue when you have problems, they are likely to pick up those bad habits themselves,” she said.
Likewise, Rogers said siblings required proper upbringing and parents should teach them while young that it would affect their behaviour when they grew older.
“Ensure you remind them every time that they are brothers and sisters and give them regular warnings against competing or fighting. Teach your kids how to forgive each other and eventually, you will notice the rivalry will minimise. Even when it arises, they would be in a position to forgive and move on,” she said.
Keep your children busy
In many cases, children start competing for parent’s attention when they are idle and the best way to solve this is by giving them some simple tasks to do at home to keep them busy.
“Sometimes you can provide them with a project that will bring them together and in the long run create a strong bond that will make them become great friends.
“Alternatively, you can give each child a different project to ensure no one is idle. For example, asking your children to engage in artistic work such as colouring or painting can be a perfect idea to keep them busy and bonded,” Rogers said.