CIMG0183Praising our children’s cooperative interactions helps to minimize sibling rivalry.

From the moment the second child arrives, many of us immediately begin to make comparisons between the two. We do this with the second child, and the third, and so on.

I have done it with all five. Sleeping through the night, crawling, first teeth, walking, potty training — all are common milestones that provoke us to compare our children, in their presence and in public. Usually it’s harmless.

Sometimes, though, these comparisons can have unintended consequences. To avoid them, we need to make a conscience effort to do more than just acknowledge differences between our children. We must appreciate and honor them.

Children can feel less valuable to the family than their siblings. Often they feel the need to “measure up.” This creates the competitive environment commonly referred to as sibling rivalry.

Kids instinctively seek approval and recognition of the superiority of their skills by acting out. Enabling the behavior by engaging in it ourselves can turn common rivalry into an endless battle.

One way to avoid this is by preparing our children for the arrival of a new sibling. We should explain the needs and abilities of the expected sibling(s) versus the needs and skills of the soon-to-be older sibling(s). We should use words and examples that “build up” the older sibling(s) and make them feel like an important part of the newer sibling’s care. Even after this window of opportunity has passed, there are still steps we can take to decrease the intensity and frequency of rivalry.

One method is to explain how the characteristics of one child complement those of the other: If you have one shy child and another who is very outgoing, teach them that the ability to socialize and the ability to enjoy alone time are equally important. Encourage them to help each other master both skills.

If one child is interested in technical play (like a board game) while the other in enjoys creative fun (like dress-up), show them how the utilization of both preferences can be even better. This can be done by having the more creative child narrate an unscripted story of the game while the other ensures that all rules of the game are followed.

If one child likes to read and the other likes to watch television, let them both watch a kids’ movie together with the volume on mute. The child that likes to read can read the subtitles to the one who likes to watch.

Giving frequent verbal praise is another practice that is appropriate for all ages. Use the words “I like” in reference to their cooperative interactions as often as you can. I like how you are playing together. I like how you are sharing. I like to see you getting along. I like how you are helping each other. I like how you worked out your differences on your own. Let them know how proud you are of their team efforts. Kids want to please their parents.

Make a point of giving them extra attention when they are together and getting along.

This will reiterate your focus on shared attention when individual attention is less frequently attainable. They will learn to join forces and share the parental attention. Frequent mention and notice of behavior that pleases us increases our children’s awareness of how to get a positive reaction from mom or dad.

If we don’t teach them how to get the “kudos” they so desperately desire, they will settle for any individual attention, usually obtained through deliberately rebellious acts.

By: Alicia Gonzalez ~ @247ModernMom