It's the call of siblings, whether screamed over a cookie,
television program or a turn on the computer.
Battles between brothers and sisters can pull a dark cloud over
otherwise happy family vacations and summer activities-especially
when children are spending more time with each other. The more
parents try to accommodate competing interests among siblings, the
more frustrated everyone seems to get and the question becomes, can
it really ever be fair?
The more you try to calm flaring tempers, the
more you start to wonder: Can everything ever really be fair?
"Parents should try to make things as fair as possible with
regards to snacks, computer time and so on," says Todd Cartmell,
psychologist, parent and author of several books, including Keep
the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry.
"The best thing parents can do is to create an atmosphere in
which close sibling relationships are most likely to occur," says
Cartmell, who characterizes that atmosphere with one word: respect.
"In a disrespectful environment, where there is teasing, name
calling, put downs and hitting, there is no chance they will grow
close. You wouldn't grow close to someone who treated you that way,
and neither will your kids."
So how can you keep rivalries at bay and foster a respectful
atmosphere between sibs?
When sisters and brothers go at it in your house this summer,
try these techniques to keep things cool and as fair as
"A family needs to make a list of disrespectful behaviors that
push their relationships apart, like shouting, name calling and
hitting. Then, make a list of respectful behaviors that they would
like to see more of, like sharing, giving compliments and taking
turns," says Cartmell.
"Identify situations where disrespectful behaviors most often
happen (like taking turns on the computer) and have the children
role-play that situation, using respectful words and behaviors.
Through regular practice, your children's skills at handling
situations in a respectful way will increase and improve their
Flexibility is the key to squelching power struggles. Parents
can teach their children to think flexible thoughts, such as "It's
OK," "I don't always have to go first," "It's no big deal, we'll
all get a turn," to help them handle disappointments. Once those
become familiar, parents can encourage their children to act in
flexible ways, letting other kids go ahead of them or have a turn
with the favorite toy.
But Cartmell says parents also must modify their expectations
when a child throws a tantrum over the injustice of a bigger
cookie. "We expect our children to be able to handle this. The
skill they need to learn here is to be flexible."
Instead of trying to keep kids and their feuding apart by
separating them, parents can help improve sibling relationship by
instituting a regular family time together. Whether it's playing
board games, going on a walk in the neighborhood or cooking a meal
together, family activities that depend on cooperation and are
centered on fun give siblings a chance to practice healthy
communication skills in a supervised setting.
While parents may be able to manage the tension between
siblings, encourage peace-making and patience, they can't make
their children love one another, says Cartmell. "In fact, I don't
think you can make them like each other."
Whether we know it or not, we often treat the "kids" as one
unit, whether they are a pack of two or six, aggravating the need
some kids have to stick out from the crowd, be heard and paid
attention to. All the effort to get to the front of the line puts
even the most good-natured child on edge and can aggravate sibling
A little undivided attention from mom or dad will give each
child a chance to be heard without interruptions or objections, and
summer vacation time is the perfect opportunity to enjoy each
Sharon Cindrich is a mother of two tech-savvy kids from Virginia Beach. Learn more at sharoncindrich.com.
See more of Sharon's stories here.
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