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Give the elder child a break - By Ruth Liew

It may be disheartening for the older kid to always be asked to give in to his sibling.ARE you treating your elder child unfairly to protect the younger one? I remember my parents telling me that I, as the eldest of three children, should be a good role model to my siblings.
Like many an eldest child, I was expected to take on more responsibilities with the arrival of each new sibling.My grandmother would punish me harshly when my sister and I fought. She would take her side because my sister would be the first to cry when approached.I was often told: “You are the eldest sister. You must give in to your younger siblings.”

Generally, oldest children are subjected to stricter discipline and expected to meet higher standards than their younger siblings.Owing to new parents’ anxiety, the first-born may often end up being expected to grow up faster than he could cope.Parents are unaware of the message they send to both older and younger children when they step in to protect the latter.

An aunt wrote to me about her two nephews aged four and six. She was concerned that whenever the boys got into trouble with one another, their mother would not heed the eldest’s defence of himself.Instead, she would force him to own up to his faults as a way to shield the younger lad.What may happen is that the latter will learn to resolve conflicts by manipulating their parents against the older brother or sister. In the case of these two brothers, the younger son would never admit his mistakes but put the blame on his brother.Sadly, many busy parents opt to use the least amount of time and effort to get their children to behave properly.
They will punish them when they can’t get them to co-operate. They will be dismayed to find that children in their early years do not benefit much from such an approach.

What these kids need is to learn and develop appropriate skills in handling conflicts.Children as young as about one-and-a-half years old are capable of observing the way their parents manage sibling conflicts. They know how to manipulate the situation to their favour.

I remember my younger daughter would cry louder than her sister when they were confronted after making a mistake.Parents who want to teach their children fair play must first practise what they preach.If two children are struggling over a toy, help them find a solution to their problem. Refrain from asking: “Who started the fight first?” or “Who got the toy first?”

Parents fare better when they help both children learn to be accountable for their actions.Tell both children: “You have to get along and work things out between you. Let me know if you need my help to offer suggestions on how to play together without fighting.”

When children have decided on a solution, accept and respect their choice. Do not act as adjudicator in the dispute.Children need to know that fighting is never about who is right or wrong. Both parties must be responsible for their roles in the argument.Refrain from comparing their differences as siblings. The last thing a child needs to hear is: “You are older. You should know better.”

It is exasperating for any kid to constantly bear the brunt of his parents’ ire. Consequently, he may feel he is never good enough for his parents while his younger sibling may end up feeling that he needs protection all the time.To encourage both siblings to feel capable and independent, parents must be prepared to accept each child for their strengths and weaknesses.

Help them achieve their individual goals.Siblings find it harder to get along when parents make comments such as: “Why can’t you get the answer? Your younger brother can remember but you can’t.”
Emphasise on their kind deeds towards one another. Saying things like: “It’s very nice of you to help your sister with her shoes,” can make a big, positive difference to your children’s lives together.

Ruth Liew is a child developmentalist, Montessori trainer and examiner. A mother of two teenage daughters, she is committed to supporting children’s rights.

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