Our relationships with our siblings are the most important in our lives. They are the ones we have known the longest and we share a lived experience that is unparalleled. But we have all heard the common terms “sibling rivalry” and “parental favoritism“.
Especially when children are very small, there is bound to be some conflict and competition, and sometimes parents get it wrong, dealing with children differently according to the ease of their personality traits.
If parents don’t address these issues early and guide the children to get along, support, accept and love each other unconditionally, they could jeopardize their adult relationships, not only with their siblings, but with other people in general.
With our brothers and sisters, we learn early on how to negotiate, share, nurture, protect, empathize, and avoid negative relationship attributes like jealousy, selfishness, aggression and misunderstanding. As parents, we need to ensure that children understand how to navigate relationships in a healthy way, regardless of the obstacles and difficulties that life may throw at them.
Remember: Your Children’s Individuality Deserves to Be Treated Equally
There are many signs that can demonstrate that there is an imbalance within sibling relationships, fuelling jealousy. Often these manifest unintentionally.
Honestly Ask Yourself If Your Different Treatment Is Responsible
Regardless of our kinship, we are all simply individuals who will get along with some people more than others, whether they are our parents or siblings. However, as guardians, we can ask ourselves some questions to determine if we are treating our children unequally by not making space for their individual differences. This quiz is a helpful guide to become more conscious of our behavior.
Many factors contribute to why siblings fight and why parents treat their children differently to one another. Children have their own individual personalities, and depending on their ages and developmental stages, they will relate to each other in varying ways. Parents too have a spectrum of personality traits and life experiences and will connect and relate to their children individually.
To Ensure Your Children Grow Up Feeling Loved, You Should Be Objective
Sometimes though, it requires adults to be objective, to remove their personal feelings and emotional urges from their behavior, in order to implement the task of parenting and conflict management in a fair and equitable way. This will ensure that siblings grow up understanding two simple things:
- They are loved equally and unconditionally
- They are allowed and encouraged to be unique and different from one another, using their best qualities to compliment each other and coping with the personality traits that are likely to clash.
Otherwise, Your Children Can Become an Overly Competitive Person Living in Resentment
When these very simply factors aren’t addressed, what are seemingly insignificant feelings of jealousy and rivalry as children, can turn into full-blown resentment and irreparable rifts as adults.
Children feel as though they have to compete for their parents’ affection, they are judgemental and not accepting of their siblings’ personalities and life experiences and parents tend to lose close bonds with all their children as a result.
Once we have understood why sibling jealousy and parental favoritism can occur and the factors that contribute to them, we can begin to take action to address issues as they occur.
The biggest realization is that conflict is inevitable and healthy. We need to learn to “fight right” so that healthy conflict resolution and prosperous relationship bonds can take place .
Here are 5 ways to address sibling jealousy and parental favoritism:
Show Affection to Your Children In Response to Their Individual Needs
We can show affection to children in mutually responsive ways. Some children love to be hugged and kissed, others prefer their personal space.
Affection and physical contact is vital to human bonding, but it is important to figure out the needs of the individual child. Show affection to your children in the way they prefer. If a child loves endless cuddles on your lap, you are not playing favorites if that is how they respond.
Just ensure that your other child, for example, who prefers a quick kiss and cuddle and verbal praise, gets equal affection in a way that they are comfortable with.
Eliminate Any Gender Bias
It is not important or relevant whether your child is a boy or a girl. Often we place different expectations on our children based on their gender, that creates inequality, conflict and jealousy.
We expect girls to be helpful around the house, to be softer, fairer, quieter, prettier. We encourage boys to be strong, tough, smart and to suppress their softer emotions.
However, we should not treat our children differently according to their gender. Neither is more or less capable, important or valuable. Children should be allowed to express themselves as they see fit. We should nurture their desires, talents, strengths and abilities equally and stop putting pressure on them based on fabricated and false societal expectations.
The best way to do this is to give them the opposite options.
Encourage boys to play with dolls and dress ups, to help themselves fulfill their needs and to express their feelings. Girls should be praised for their abilities, intelligence and character, not for their looks or fashion sense. They should be allowed to get dirty, be loud and play with building blocks and cars, and to use their bodies physically by climbing, playing sport and running.
Emphasize Equality During Conflict Resolution
Sometimes it is clear who is right or wrong, but sometimes the issue is blurred. As guardians, we need children to understand that fighting and conflict are inevitable, but there are ways to resolve problems in a fair, respectful and mutually beneficial way.
We need to make children witness distress in others, if they are the cause and to apologize. We also need to teach children how to forgive and forget and to make up. We can encourage them to play together if it is working and to give each other some space when there is tension. We can guide them by being facilitators and also providing an example by how we address conflict resolution within our own relationships.
Nurture Individual Relationships While Upholding the Group Dynamics
Children need to feel like they belong to a family, a tribe, that there is a wholeness to the dynamic of their relationships as siblings, as family, that they are united as a team and have each others’ backs.
At the same time, they need to be encouraged to have one-on-one unique relationships with individuals. It may be that they get along better or have more in common with one sibling over another, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less loyal or affectionate towards the others.
Treasure the Value of Open Honest Communication
Often conflict, jealousy and resentment escalates unnecessarily when people do not have the tools or desire to express their feelings in a healthy way.
We need to teach children to convey their message clearly and also to interpret the messages of others accurately.
Sometimes feelings get in the way of talking, and there are many other ways to exchange messages in order to resolve conflict. We can help children pay attention to and be aware of each others’ behavior and mood. If someone looks like they want to be left alone, there might be a reason and they may simply need some time and space, or alternatively to be reached out to.
We can reach out to each other in a number of ways without speaking; buying a small gift, sending a card, writing a letter, telling a joke or doing a random act of kindness. We can also guide children to deal with their own feelings of anger, jealousy and resentment.
Sometimes confrontation is unnecessary and developing the emotional maturity to work out your own feelings is something we can encourage in children. Other times these feelings need to be expressed, as confronting as they may be, and children can be taught to not take it personally and allow their siblings to say their piece and accept their feelings. And should the need arise, to simply apologize and move on.
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