Monday, May 17, 2010

Sibling rivalry

Children need to work out their relationship with their siblings.
TWO-year-old Kate is the baby of the family. Her older siblings are in primary school. She enjoys the attention they lavish on her every day. The family dotes on her and caters to all her needs.Ben, two, has a four-year-old sister. He gets into squabbles with her almost every day.To his sister, he is an intruder. He would take her things and make her angry. In turn, she would hit him or throw things at him. Both children experience being the youngest in different ways.

Kate may find that it is rewarding to be the baby of the family. She may struggle with wanting to be independent. Her siblings are always there to help her. So it is up to her parents to support her as she tries to do things on her own. Meanwhile, Ben learns quickly to cope with his daily struggles. His sister may be kind and helpful one moment, hurtful and selfish the next. He has to be ready for all situations.Ben learns to be competitive as he has to deal with his sibling. His older sister is fighting with him for parental attention. After all, she was the baby of the family not too long ago. Her younger brother has usurped her position.

Many would assume that the younger child is the vulnerable one and is not old enough or strong enough to stand up for his rights. But in some families, the baby is more outgoing and aggressive, and the older child may be more timid and cautious. The younger sibling may be the one initiating all the fights.

If you have a two-year-old as the baby of the family, you may have to deal with challenging situations and tense moments. The two-year-old is learning to control his behaviour; he may not be successful all the time. He can get frustrated easily, and may throw tantrums. The older child may not be able to understand his younger sibling’s behaviour. He may get confused easily as he does not know that the toddler is just trying to do things his way. For the two-year-old, there are times when the desire to be independent is very strong. At other times, he may feel insecure and wants to be babied. This is a natural development for the child.

When he is dealing with an older sibling, his need for independence takes centre stage. In wanting to join in the older child’s play, he has to do what the older sibling wants. But following commands is just the opposite of what a two-year-old wants to do. He wants to be heard and wants to play on his own terms.Quite often, the older child misunderstands the toddler’s growing need to take control. He may interpret it as hostility. What represents a step forward for the younger child only angers the older sibling.
Parents need to understand that their children will not always play well together. Let your children settle their own fights. It will enhance their relationship.
When your toddler runs to you for help after knocking down his older brother’s play structure, you can say to him: “You have knocked down your brother’s structure. He is angry with you. You have to find a way to make him feel better.”
If you keep taking responsibility for the problems they have with each other, you become the active third party in their competition. You may end up as the referee. Then they will be fighting not just with each other, but for your attention as well.
It is easy to jump in to protect the rights of the younger child who seems more vulnerable. Yet the older child is equally in need of your protection and empathy to work out the complex feelings he has for the “baby”.
There are times when you need to be there to prevent either child from sustaining physical hurt or to help them handle aggressive feelings.
It is worth taking time to reflect on your childhood relationships with your siblings, as your feelings may influence the way you perceive your children’s sibling relationship.

A parent who is the youngest child in the family, may recall her own childhood experience in dealing with her older siblings. Meanwhile, a parent who is the eldest child in the family, may recall how her younger siblings got all the attention. So the parent may unconsciously side with the older child.
You can bring the children closer together and help them to work out their sibling relationship if you understand how it works.
You can also show them ways to make each other happy and learn to get along. Children will gain a sense of fairness when you help them change the situation for the better.
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