Friday, July 8, 2011

Sibling Rivalry or Support?

We usually spend more time with our siblings than any other family member. We potentially spend more time on earth with them than any other human. If you think of it that way, you probably want to be nicer to your brother or sister. Seriously, the relationship with our siblings along with the interaction of parents is the basis for all relationships and how we make our way in the world. The social skills learned here provide a foundation for all other relationships.

Sibling rivalry has been the subject of a great deal of research. It happens and is normal. How the parents handle those interactions dictates a lot of the future. Children are testing and exploring the limits of social behavior. They are learning what to do when confronted with certain challenges and frustrating situations. Each child needs to be acknowledged as a valued individual and not compared to another. Try to reward or acknowledge appropriate behavior. When a child is quiet and occupied, it may be hard to take time out of a hectic schedule to provide praise for the child's quiet behavior. If a child shows initiative by being considerate, let them know how much that is appreciated. Modeling good behavior for children is important, particularly how parents handle the difficult moments. It is still normal for some disagreement when sharing; feeling slighted by the attention or advantages provided to another sibling. Never tolerate physical harm, verbal abuse or intimidation. This can and should be interrupted. Time outs are very useful. They are not punitive, but serve as an immediate way to interrupt the bad behavior and provide a couple minutes of cooling off. Then appropriate behavior and an alternative can be discussed. Do not be concerned about assigning blame. Learning how to compromise, negotiate, and control aggressive impulses are important lessons. It is how these simple moments are resolved that will determine how they resolve conflicts and disagreements in the future and as adults. They will begin to gain perspective of another person and learn how to compromise. They acquire important life long skills when realizing consideration is actually easier and more beneficial. Family meetings serve as a reminder, when review of issues and rules takes place. Encourage the children's input for rules, expectations and consequences if expectations are not met. Validating their opinion encourages self-esteem and cooperation. If possible, give the kids opportunity to settle their differences in a reasonable fashion without a parent always intervening or defending one of the combatants. On the other hand, inappropriate behavior should be interrupted by a time out, followed by discussion when cooler heads can prevail.

Children need to be safe, know their basic needs will be met, understood as individuals, and loved. This sounds simple but is a bit of a challenge to do consistently in some families. Good communication based on mutual trust and respect for each family member is mission critical. Studies in the last few years in Britain and the U.S. have indicated that families were happier if there was at least one girl. The suggestion was that there was more discussion of feelings, expression of affection and perhaps caretaking done by a sister of other siblings. Certainly, there is a cultural pattern repeated here but it is not gender specific. A pattern of sisters in a family promotes this favorable communication. Studies indicated growing up with at least one girl or more in the family lowered the chance of depression, violent behavior, or feelings of guilt. However, the fundamental difference is part cultural when females are considered more emotional and nurturing. Experts agree that emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health. That is not to say both genders with proper modeling of behavior and communication skills can learn the importance of respectful meaningful communication skills. Research has also found that single children who found strong social support inside or outside the family did just as well. Therefore, the important element is quality of communication within the family that addresses truly important issues. Parental behavior that models loving expression and nurturing behavior resulted in children who were more confident and effective adults.

Bruce Kaler M.D. is a practicing physician for over thirty years and has authored the medical mystery novel Turnabout as well as the non-fiction Owners Manual for Injury Prevention. Visit his website at . Health related articles at Ezine expert articles

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