Jul 12, 2013
“How then do you love each of your multiple children, if not the best or even equally? The answer is, you love them uniquely.”
– Marianne Neifert (“Dr. Mom”)
For families with multiple children, sibling rivalry is an inevitable challenge that all parents must face. When children reach school age, they begin to discover their identities and talents, and they seek recognition from their parents for academic, athletic and social successes. When parents offer praise to one child for these achievements, the others often have difficulty understanding that their siblings’ successes do not diminish their own, and thus a rivalry is born.
The intensity of a sibling rivalry is affected by a number of factors, including age, gender, birth order, parenting style, cultural values and personality. Although some amount of competition between siblings is normal and healthy, rivalries should be reeled in if they are damaging to a child’s confidence and self esteem. Instead of trying to achieve the impossible feat of equalizing children’s achievements, it is better to celebrate differences between siblings and encourage this competition as a mutual motivator.
For example, if one child is particularly strong in math and is praised for their success on a recent test, their brother or sister that struggles in the subject may become jealous and frustrated because they feel as though they will never measure up to their sibling’s achievement. Understand that these feelings are natural, and learn to recognize situations where rivalries may become discouraging for one child if they feel like they are being compared to a sibling.
Consistently reinforce the idea that fair does not mean equal by reminding each child that they have unique and special talents. When children recognize their strengths and feel successful, they will be more self-confident which leads to better relationships between siblings. However, be careful of labeling “the athletic one” or “the artistic one,” as these kinds of classifications could make children feel as though their potential success is limited to one area. By understanding the role that competition plays in family dynamics, parents can more easily recognize and reward behaviors that promote healthy sibling relationships.