Sibling rivalry

As a parent of more than one child, I often feel like a ball boy in a tennis match. Avidly watching the words being batted backwards and forwards between each member of the family, I await the time when they go astray and I have to run swiftly to pick them up and pass them back again so that the game can be continued. As I rush from one child to the next, consoling, cheering and explaining another's point of view, I often feel as if I have missed my calling in life.. .parents of more than one child should be given automatic entry to the diplomatic corps!

Some siblings compete from the minute they are born right through to the end of their lives and many siblings enter adulthood quoting the old adage 'you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family' and make the decision to turn their backs on their family as a result of such sibling conflict. Indeed, serious conflict can leave emotional scars that last a lifetime.

It is all too easy, as parents, to resign ourselves to the idea that sibling conflicts merely resolve natural jealousies and that the children will grow out of it. However, there is far more to sibling rivalry than merely the natural order of things. Whether we like it or not our siblings are part of the very fabric of our life. Sibling interaction lays the foundation for close relationships with peers, with others in later life and often how the child eventually relates to his or her own children. In learning to share, learning to appreciate another's point of view and learning to accept and appreciate difference, the child is at a huge emotional advantage. (I have to say that mine can't always quite see this as yet!)

It has been reported (Judy Dunn 1992) that a more balanced relationship is created in the middle childhood and adolescent years, and that at this stage when the older sibling isn't nurturing the younger one as much, conflict and tension is reduced and replaced by an equity and empowerment in both children. Whilst many siblings report a high level of conflict (tell me about it!) with their brothers and sisters during pre-adolescence and early adolescence, there is reported to be a marked decline in this tension by middle to late adolescence (Buhrmester 1992). Obviously my children have not read this research! However, in all fairness to my children, they do have a few added extras to negotiate in their path to maturity. Nevertheless, whether in a family like mine or in a.less colourful family, sibling rivalry is one area that is guaranteed to turn any parent's hair grey.

How many of your mothers used to say "If you two don't stop it I will bang both ofyour heads together"? I know mine did. Rather than resorting to such drastic measures, here are a few tips which may make life easier!

• Accept that gender issues are inevitable. However much we try not to create stereotypes, a child's sex determines his or her activities to some extent. A girl may do 'girlie things' with her mother whilst a boy may spend more time with his father. This can cause natural resentment. Try to redress the balance whilst explaining that such things are inevitable.

• Be consistent. In the face of constant 'It's not fairs' it is all too easy to give in. Each child needs a different set of rules, depending on his or her age and ability. It is our job as parents to not only set these rules but also stick to them.

• Listen to what your children have to tell you, whether it is a gripe about their brother or sister or to share something that happened in their day. By showing that you are interested in their needs, interests and opinions, they all feel equally valued and so have less reason for conflict.

• Use actions to show that you are interested. Teenagers in particular seem to dismiss a lot of praise and approval as merely a parent 'making the right noises'. By attending an art exhibition, a musical evening or a sports game, we can reinforce our words and prove that we are truly interested in their lives.

• Remember that your children are individuals. Whilst it is obviously unfair to give special attention for no reason, remember that to treat our children equally we need not, indeed must not, treat them the same. To do so devalues them as individuals.

• Investigate the reasons behind problems before taking sides and presuming that a child who has lashed out is the one who is at fault. Family complexities are often so great that the fault rarely lies with just one person.

• Don't make comparisons between each child. Not only is each child unique but he or she also feels unique and will very soon resent such comparisons.

• Explain that anger and resentment are natural and it is OK to feel such emotions. Explain that it is how they deal with and control such emotion that is important. Teach your children not to suppress their feelings but to talk them through.

• Recognize that a child cannot always control his or her feelings and be prepared to step in before a major incident occurs. Children often get out of control then feel ashamed and embarrassed by their actions. It is our job as parents to try to prevent this from happening.

• Leave siblings to settle their own differences whenever possible, but keep a careful eye on the situation.

• Be prepared to step in and mediate if a situation is escalating or if it is an 'unfair fight'. Siblings are often unequal in age and ability.

• Reward good behaviour. If your children are all sitting nicely together watching a video or playing a game, then comment on how pleased you are that they are not arguing and maybe share out a packet of treats as a reward. However as the children get older, ensure that they realize that this should be the norm and not done to earn rewards.

• Take action before the rivalry escalates into verbal or even physical violence. Separate the children who are in conflict and remove any other aggravators (don't other siblings just love to encourage a fight?).

• Always discuss an incident after the 'cooling off period' and try to find ways in which to deal with the source of aggravation.

• Suggest ways to deal with teasing if one child is particularly susceptible. Luke often has hissed at him "You Asperger" or "You freak" and he now replies "Why thank you" and it really does wash over him.

• Alternatively, teach the child to ask for help when things get too much for him or her.

• Devise a system (boy is this complicated in a large family!) to avoid the familiar fights over who sits in the front of the car, who does the washing up, who chooses the television programme, etc. Make sure that this is done with the agreement ofall. It may be difficult to actually draw up such a system, but it will be worthwhile in the end.

• Ensure a private place that your child can call his or her own. Ifhe or she needs to share a bedroom, then make sure that there are boundaries and times given when each child can use his or her own space alone. When I was a child and shared a room with my sister, we were allowed to use the garage as a 'den'. A rota was devised for times of use and our own belongings were kept under lock and key when we were not there.

• Accept that some children will get on better than others and try not to force them onto each other. Luke and Rachel are total opposites of each other in character and so invariably have little to say to each other. The presence of the other in the family serves to show each of them that his or her way is not the only way. Joe and Ben however, become more and more alike each day and are becoming inseparable.

• Learn to smile and accept that more often than not, your children will become a united force in the face ofparental intervention and you will suddenly become the bad guy! I for one have got broad shoulders and am quite happy with that.. .as long as it keeps them from tearing at each other's throats!

Funny Wiring Autism

Funny Wiring Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.

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