Siblings play a critical role in each other's social, emotional, and cognitive development. They frequently become a part of one another’s first social circle, exchanging life lessons and serving as models for acceptable behaviour. Siblings help each other develop empathy and problem-solving skills. Kids, who have positive relationships with their siblings, develop into happy, confident adults. However, sibling rivalry too is a reality, which can get incredibly overwhelming for everyone in the family.
Conflict and arguments can get tough to handle, and can impact the siblings’ emotional health, self-worth and social skills for the rest of their life. This does not imply, however, that sibling rivalry will always result in severe dysfunction. Instead, a healthy rivalry can help kids strive for excellence, feel inspired to put in more effort, and improve their problem-solving abilities, among other things. Parents must encourage healthy sibling relationships and can use these constructive conflict resolution approaches.
Encourage collaboration: Establish certain norms, which could apply to all family members, irrespective of their age or relationship. These straightforward guidelines can help foster equality for the eldest and youngest in the family. These could include not demeaning one another, not yelling, not taking things without permission, assisting one another, and more. Build positive role models by living these values at all times.
Tip: Get the older sibling to help with the baby's care when the second child arrives. This could be anything from singing lullabies, reading aloud from books, or helping to change diapers. Later on, assigning siblings chores such as tidying up together, assisting with serving of food, working on a puzzle together, encourages cooperation and gives everyone a sense of worth, inclusion, and trust.
Avoid making comparisons: As each child is unique and distinct, it is important to value them for who they are as individuals. It is equally important to recognise and address each child's needs in a fair manner. Individual variation will always exist but one must be sensitive in recognising these nuances and making an effort to manage them rather than generalizing or trivialising them.
Tip: As an alternative to asking, "Why can't you be as neat as your sister?", say instead, "You both have different ways of doing things, and that's okay". For parents of children with special needs, giving age-appropriate information about the sibling is important. Give children the tools they need to stand up for their siblings. Encourage inclusivity at home.
Teach children how to resolve a disagreement: Sibling relationships are no different from any other relationship. Set a good example for your kids by practicing healthy conflict resolution skills like listening to each other, expressing one's own emotions, considering other people's viewpoints, being firm but also polite and respectful. Show how one must be both flexible to consider other’s ideas but also firm enough to voice their opinions with kindness, and respect.
Encourage healthy communication: Help children share their feelings in clear words without feeling scared or shy. Creating a no-judgment listening zone can go a long way in helping siblings understand each other. This, however, does not mean that brash actions, stemming from raging emotions, would qualify as justified.
Respect others’ points of view: Siblings can be taught to acknowledge that different people think differently, and that while one may not always have to agree on everything, disrespecting someone is never a solution. This can be accomplished through positive role modeling and clear communication.
Even while everyday arguments or small conflicts may be the outward manifestation of rivalry, the underlying cause can remain dormant. It is necessary to confront and deal with deeper issues in a sensitive manner. Establishing a strong sibling relationship requires effort, perseverance, and time. Parents can help their children develop deep bonds and thrive, in spite of differences, by creating a compassionate atmosphere for them.
Sukhna Sawhney is Content and Curriculum Lead, Rocket Learning