Published On: Mon, Aug 13th, 2012


Danielle Mantakoul

There is a good chance that your children will have a relationship with their siblings longer than with anyone else, including yourself. Encouraging our kids to not only get along but to enjoy each others company can seem at times like an uphill climb. There are though plenty of simple things you can do to encourage good relationships between your kids.

When your kids are grown I can almost guarantee that it won’t be the dishes you didn’t get to often enough, or the fact that the carpet could have been vacuumed twice a week instead of once that you will think about. It will be your time spent with your children. That game of Trouble or Hide and Seek you played, or the time you made playdough and the flourSiblings was everywhere. We all have jobs to get done to keep our lives running smoothly, just remember now and then that sometimes the dishes can wait, the carpet is not that dirty, and that flour is simply that, flour. You want to be able to say to yourself when they have flown, “didn’t they have fun, and I’m so glad I went along for the ride with them”.

We need to create time… yes I said create… time where we spend with all siblings together sharing an experience that is positive. The story, the game, the conversation, the afternoon tea. The reason I say “create time” is because our tasks as parents seem to be never ending. Because of this, we need to STOP and organise time together, not just wait until everyone decides they want to do something together.

Fairness can tend to be for kids about the little stuff as much as the big. Kids can think you’re being unfair if they don’t get the coloured plate they wanted, or the fact that they must be dragged along to speech therapy for a sibling. Don’t assume that fairness with our kids should just automatically happen. We all need to work to be fair parents, and while some of us may have to work harder than others, it doesn’t have to be a difficult task. It’s about being mindful. The very simplest of things can send the message to your kids that you try to always be fair.
Here are a few examples.

* When serving your kids food, take the plates over at the same time. I got myself into a pattern of always getting my eldest child to wait. I would do the other kids first simply because I knew she was the most patient, until one day she says to me “mum why am I always last to get my breakfast”? You know those smack in the mouth moments as a parent? This was one of mine.

* Try not to assume that one child is always the instigator of trouble. How often when you hear a kerfuffle taking place in another room do you yell from the kitchen…. “Jacob what are you doing”!!!! Your assuming creates a sense of unfairness, and yes while there is a good chance it is Jacob, you will need to watch your assuming.

* If the older child has the toy first, the older child should keep it! We can tend to want to hand that toy over to the toddler so we don’t have to deal with the screaming, but how unfair is that! The good old “he’s little, let’s give it to him then you can have a turn” is not fair and builds sibling resentment.

* Try not to encourage too much competition between siblings. Siblings that are highly competitive with each other can be in danger of a poor future relationship with each other. We can tend to fall into this trap if we want something done quickly such as packing away. “Okay let’s see who can pack away the fastest, or get into the car first”. The problem with games such as these is there is always a winner and a loser. Your unfairness comes from setting one of your children up to be the one that loses. With young children, games such as snap or memory are a great way to introduce competition in a fun way rather than a stressful way. If you want things done quickly, try. “Let’s see if you can do it by the time I count to ten”. This way kids race themselves and can both win.

Sometimes its not what we do but what we say that creates a sense of unfairness for kids.
On picking the kids up from school I felt sure that going to the doughnut shop would be a treat well received by my three children aged 7, 7 and 5. When we had all piled into the car, I asked them who wanted to go and have a doughnut expecting screams of delight all round. “Me” shouts Bella and Aidan. William quickly interjects. “No! I want to go home and play Lego”. I had every intention of taking them for a doughnut before I asked anybody so it wasn’t really a question at all. Now I was presented with the problem of who to upset. Don’t ask a question if it’s not really a question. This simply means thinking before you speak. How many of your questions are encouraging sibling rivalry or painting you as the unfair parent?

The Special Needs Child
Special needs children can certainly have greater needs which can take up more of our time and attention. For siblings though, the reason this happens even though you may explain it to them, may not make it any more tolerable or seem any fairer. This extra attention needed is not usually understood until siblings of the special needs child are much older, and even though when adults they will have a much greater understanding of why this occurred, they will still recall clear as day those feelings of unfairness they experienced as a child. Attention needs to be kept in check to ensure balance of time is maintained. Ensure you’re spending time individually with your kids, this means one-on-one time where the focus is only on them. This time ideally should be uninterrupted. There is a good chance that you have had to ask that child to wait on many occasion as you had to deal with something in the moment in relation to your special needs child. “Try to organise” your time where you have the best chance not to be interrupted from what you are doing with that child.

That’s it, no Park!
Sometimes we punish our kids for something their sibling has done. As unintentional as this is, it is so easy to do. For example: if your child does not do as you request and you cancel your afternoon park visit, it’s not just the child ín trouble that pays, but siblings of course pay too. As for you, well, don’t you go to the park just as much for yourself as for them? Watch you’re dishing out of consequences does not infringe on others, especially siblings, as this is not a great way to foster good relationships.

Understanding another’s Feelings
At times my daughter Bella (7) likes to play by herself. Her brother William (5) with whom she is quite close would become most upset on seeing her bedroom door closed. This was her sign to the world that she wanted to be alone. William however would take this quite personally becoming upset. He felt that he had done something wrong and that Bella was cross at him, so he would pound on the door not understanding why she would do this to him! Bella would simply yell from the other side. “Go away, you can’t come in”. We need to verbalise the feelings of our kids to each other. “Bella Will thinks you are cross with him, can you please explain to him why your door is shut”. Although this may not make Will magically happy and won’t stop him from wanting to go in, it will however be teaching him to respect the wishes and feelings of his sibling, rather than spending his time wondering what he did wrong. Talk about how they too like time alone to help understand. “You know how you like to play with your trains sometimes by yourself”…

With younger children however, all the explaining in the world can be done as to why that door is shut. But that toddler is still going to pound on the door and continue to scream. Our job here as parents is to guide the toddler away be it via distraction or to simply move them. Some parents can make the mistake of opening that door and telling the older child their sibling wants to come in. This move by the parent only aids in the building of sibling resentment. Older siblings especially can tend to want time by themselves more so than younger children. This should be respected.

But it’s not your Birthday
Every birthday when my children were little I would run into the same problem. It never sat right buying presents for just one child, and each year I knew the question was coming from the child who’s birthday was a mile away. “Can you buy me something for Bella’s birthday”. It is extremely difficult for kids to really understand how the present thing works, and each birthday I would go and get a little something for the other child. What I found though as they got a little older and started school, they seemed to understand that it wasn’t their turn and that theirs would come. What I found most helpful to keep balance was to involve the other two in the purchasing of presents and arrangements for the cake for their brother or sister. It was even more effective if it was made to be a secret from that sibling having the birthday. The two siblings who’s birthday it wasn’t also felt special as they had a role to play. Kids look for roles, and if they can’t find them, poor behaviour can result.

Little White Lies
Sometimes we can rope siblings in on a lie. For example. “Tell your brother you are going to the doctors this afternoon instead of the party”. This may seem a good idea at the time but have you considered the long term effects? If you show your child you are willing to lie to their sibling, then doesn’t this mean you’d be willing to lie to them? Try not to rope kids in on your little white lies to make life easier. Do we really want to teach kids that this is a good way to keep the peace?

Celebrate Joined Success Together
Provide your kids with opportunities where they can work together to succeed such as cooking or washing the car. Achieving and celebrating that achievement help to bond kids, build positive relationships and create great self esteem. Washing the car is a great one. All ages can be involved, it’s fun and the result can be seen by all. Highlight the work they have done together and how proud you are of their team work.

By Danielle Mantakoul
Copyright 2012

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