"Why can't you be more like your older brother?" or "Sara's the pretty one and Sally's smart." How many adults recall comments like these and vow never to say them—or even think them—as parents?
As parents we want to be fair to each child. While we love our kids equally, the kids know that they aren't on a level playing field. Older kids have an edge in the "more advanced" department, while younger kids need special attention. Add to the mix differences in gender, special talents, and disabilities, and sibling life becomes a complicated scenario.
A certain amount of sibling competition can be expected. It even exists among animals vying for resources. In human families, children compete for their parents' attention and recognition. While rivalry between your children can't be entirely eliminated, there are things you can do.
- Make sure each child knows he or she is valued. This may sound obvious, but when there's a cute baby or more advanced big sib in the house, a kid may easily feel overshadowed or overlooked.
- Structure privileges in a way that kids understand. Kids will find it more "fair," and therefore tolerable, if you extend privileges in a consistent and concrete way. For instance, staying up until a certain time comes with being a certain age. A clearly stated system actually helps reduce competition.
- Encourage kids to explore a range of strengths. Parents often try to reduce competition by labeling siblings as having different and distinct abilities. However, there's often more than one musician or athlete in the same family. Avoid labeling kids in a way that limits their exploration. Provide comparable encouragement, opportunities, and resources for each child.
- View the family as a team. Encourage siblings to root for one another and enjoy one another's successes. Help kids recognize that the accomplishments of one can be seen as enhancing, rather than detracting from, the other.
- Encourage cooperative projects. Create situations where siblings collaborate to accomplish a goal. Help them learn to listen to one another and respect one another's contributions.