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Sibling Ties: How Far Can They Be Nurtured?

"We often hear about sibling rivalry and most parents complain of it. But sibling can be nurtured with care. I used to think that I am doing Anna a big favor by having a second child and giving her a companion. But they fight all the time. Now she hates her sister and even wishes that I never had her:" In families with more than one child, squabbles, fights and "it's not fair," sounds all too familiar.

When you see the squabbles and fights amongst your children, you half wonder if you did the right thing in having more. Sisters fight with brothers and brothers quarrel with sisters and parents often get emotionally involved to end the strife, causing frustration and tensions.

Be rest assured however, that sibling rivalry is a routine part of growing up in families. Sibling rivalry happens everyday. And working through the conflicts can be frustrating not only for you but your children as well. But are you doing it right or just butting in and creating more tension for everyone?


Daniel, a psychologist, suggests that you should try to nurture sibling ties by promoting sibling bonding. He says, "Sibling bonding is a natural human process involving one's feelings, behaviors and reactions. At times, a child's personality and character may influence how the bonding takes place. This feelings, behaviors and reactions are all inter-related (e.g. if a child feels loved, he will react in a positive manner and would treat the other child better). A child may also be sensitive to changes at home, his environment or even treatment towards him. Such changes may affect how a child feels, etc."

A Word On Favoritism

I know one way to kill a child's spirit is to tell him he is worse than his siblings," said Irene, a stay-home mum to two boys, who till today regrets comparing her youngest son with his older brother. "I tend to favor my older son because he is smarter and more obedient. So, I criticise the younger one for not being so smart and obedient. I know I shouldn't do it, but don't seem to be able to snap out of it. We are now seeking help and I do so much want my son to know that I love him:'

Adrian Lau, a psychologist advises against showing favoritism. He says, "Sibling rivalry increases when the parents show favoritism. And never resolve rivalry with rules like `you are the elder one so you must give way (because it will only mean that the younger one will always win):' He suggests encouraging the children to learn to share and to take turns, as this will provide a win-win situation for all.

He further adds, "Then pay attention to the one who had to give in this time - help him deal with the disappointment and frustration, acknowledge his feelings, help him find something else to do. As long as you are sure you did not show favoritism, do not get in the argument of `it is not fair' because your child's understanding of fairness would not be the same as yours.

Homecoming Rivalry

Arrival of a new baby brings along instability and insecurity for the older child. Instead of just giving the older child a surprise like bringing a baby home, try to prepare him for the impending homecoming of the newborn. Experts believe that sibling rivalry usually starts right after or sometime before the arrival of the second child. Often, the older child becomes aggressive or may even regress.


Daniel observes, "Intervening all the time may only place the child in certain roles and does not encourage problem solving, communication, etc. Parents need to make sure that each child is safe and does not hurt each other. If the children can come to some form of compromise, then the parents should reinforce the positive behavior verbally. It also provides an opportunity to learn communication, problem-solving skills, turn taking, social skills, moral values or empathy, etc:'

Creating Moments Of Fun And Trust

Adrian says, "Sibling rivalry is a normal process in the growing-up years when children realise they are no longer the sole focus of parents' attention. Hence, the competition to get what they want, especially when there is not enough to go round:' As children grow up and go to school, the rivalry is transferred to schoolmates and it becomes peer competition - who gets the teacher's attention and praises, who gets better grades?

It helps children to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to develop interpersonal skills. This is a reflection of the real world where we do not get everything that we want and we actually need to compete with others. It is also a reflection that we do not win in all competitions, so we need to learn how to deal with losing. However, sibling rivalry is alright as long as there is also time when they have fun or a good time together.

Tips On How To Improve Sibling Bond

  • Each child is important.
  • Include the older child in all new arrangements, discussions, etc.
  • Each child has his time (equals with you e.g. talking, playing, etc.
  • Foster family time e.g. outing, family meetings, etc.
  • Be positive e.g. focus on good positive behaviour and reinforce such behavior with hugs and kisses, etc.
  • Promote respect, love, care, empathy, sharing, communication, understanding, etc. This may help them to understand each other better and to see each other's point of view.
  • Promote each child to be a comforter, teacher, companion, etc.
  • Be aware of gender difficulties and differences.
  • Set limits and boundaries e.g. what is expected of them and from you.
  • Promote teamwork.
  • To be fair to all children in terms of affection, opportunities, etc.

Tips On How To Prepare Your Other Children For The Arrival Of Baby

  • Do talk to the older child about the pregnancy, what to expect and how things are going to change, keep him informed of the progress. "Visit a friend with a new baby. And talk a lot with your older kids. Read books on pregnancy and get your older kids involved," says Linda, a mum of three boys.
  • Help the older child understand that the baby needs more attention and you need to explain to the older child why e.g. they cannot do things for themselves yet, etc; but do not blame the baby for the new changes. "Helping children to understand the fairness of meeting needs is important. Babies need more time, but we can offer to meet the attention needs of the older child by spending time together without the baby," says Rosy, who was a nurse turned full-time homemaker.
  • Reassure the older child that you love all of them equally and that they are all important to you.
  • Get the older child involved, e.g. getting the room ready, buying clothes, getting a gift for the baby, packing the baby's bag, etc.

Try These Steps When Solving Conflicts

  • Get the children to calm down first.
  • Refer to set boundaries or limits.
  • Get the children to process what had just happened and why.
  • Get the children to see each other's point of view. help the children come up with alternatives solutions.
  • Review the alternative solutions and if it is not accepted, then brainstorm again until both children are happy. If it is not possible, than as a parent you step in as a referee after listening to both parties. At this point, you need to be fair so the children will trust you.

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