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Sibling rivalry between brothers: how we avoid the unavoidable at home

To those of you who follow my YouTube channel, you know that I have two boys in grade school. Our oldest is turning 10 and our youngest just turned 7.  Having two kids of the same gender and very close in age with each other, my husband and I are fully aware of the possibility of sibling rivalry as we parent our two sons here at home. So we constantly communicate with each other about how we handle those little signs of disagreements and jealousy between our boys.

It’s starts with competition

We are blessed to have two intelligent boys. They both excel in their class. Both have strong personalities but one is more expressive than the other. Knowing that about our kids we consciously put the effort in and make sure both of them can express their feelings. We also try to make sure that both can be heard.

Our oldest, Jasper, is the quiet and calmer one. Ever since he was a baby and also during his preschool years he’s never had to ask for attention because he always received it. When his baby brother Liam came along  and needed more of my attention, we decided to have my husband give more focus on our oldest. For a couple of years it was working that way.

As our boys grew older and interacted together we started seeing more of their differences in personalities. Jasper prefers to play alone, keeps his feelings to himself when upset, and hesitates to argue until he gets frustrated. Liam is his complete opposite. He likes to play with others, is very vocal about his opinion and talks back at you when he’s upset. So imagine what happens during play and one doesn’t get what he wants. Jasper would just ignore his brother or sometimes get so frustrated he yells, while Liam continues to bicker. The shouting and name-calling is bound to happen. And then mama or papa gets involved. Or do we?

Reduce the frequency

Let’s face it, it’s common for siblings not to get along at times and almost a guarantee that sibling rivalry will happen. So my husband and I took steps and read on how to control the conflicts to prevent the yelling and arguing. There are many ways to do it. And you can read a lot of parenting materials to help you deal with it. But through time we’ve learned what works (so far) here at home and what doesn’t. In essence it all boils down to these four things below.

Observe but stay out of it
When I hear my boys start to argue, my first instinct is to intervene. I think that’s a mom’s normal reaction isn’t it? But when I intervene, they start finger-pointing and blaming. And then the conflict escalates. So what we learned is to ignore them and let them figure out how to solve their conflict on their own. Sometimes I vocally tell them to figure it out themselves and that I’m staying out of it. Sometimes I just look at them but remain quiet. By doing that, I’m also nurturing their relationship skills so they can solve their own conflicts in the future, essential for their growth and development. Only when the fighting truly escalates to physically hurting each other and using hurtful words, that’s when we interfere and do get involved.

Let their voices be heard
My husband and I make it a point that both our sons can voice out their opinion equally. This doesn’t apply only to situations of conflict when one tries to explain their side of the story, but just in general. “What is your opinion about this one Jasper? And what about you Liam?” And sometimes we ask for the opinion of Liam first. We believe that by doing so, both our boys will feel the same sense of importance. No one will feel more or less important than the other. Both will also feel that they’ve received the same attention and that no one was ignored.

Use the labeling wisely and carefully
It’s very difficult not to compare. It’s human nature to associate people with a certain trait or skill. You start to label. And you do the same with your kids (be it intentional or unintentional). Although parenting books advise you not to label your child, it’s inevitable sometimes to say that “he’s the smarter one” or “he’s the naughtier one”. But don’t get me wrong. I do not describe my kids that way at all. And that’s why I said use the labeling wisely and carefully. My oldest, for instance, prefers to play with lego and he loves to build things. Our youngest loves to play ball. So we say Jasper is more creative and Liam is more sportive. We don’t say this to limit them with their abilities but rather to encourage them to feel proud of it. If by chance Jasper likes a sport (and he does, he’s into Archery) then we also encourage that. And if Liam likes to paint at times, then we show him how proud we are of his artwork. The goal of our labeling is to cheer on their positive attributes. And more importantly, for our boys to root for each other instead of compete for our praise.

Promote warm and close relationship 
Here at home we love to hug each other. We hug when we say good morning and we hug when we say good night. We hug to stop a tantrum and we hug to praise our child. We love hugs! And sometimes I ask our kids to show their love for each other by hugging, just out of the blue!.. and they would!  (Or at least sometimes they do.. I just have to time it well hehe). We believe that through hugging you show warmth and warmth is comforting. Between siblings it promotes affection and closeness. We also encourage our kids to praise each other for a job well done or cheer for each other when they play. We remind them that we are a team and that everybody is equal. Small things like reminding them to say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” also go a long way.

Nobody said parenting is easy. And unfortunately there is no manual for disciplining our kids. Sometimes it's trial and error and what might work for my family may not work for yours. Bottom line is, our kids will argue, get jealous and compete for our attention. If we are proactive as parents in controlling these conflicts and promote a sense of warmth and understanding as a family, we’ll surely notice the decrease in sibling arguments in our homes.

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