Sibling Rivalry: It’s what happened when we stopped sending kids down the coal mines!

by Penny Cook

matrix of colourful squares with distorted borders in the centre

At what point did sibling rivalry become 2 separate words? Anyone with 2 or more children knows it’s actually one word….because as soon as you have a sibling, there is rivalry. All our good intentions in planning the ‘best possible’ age gap between children goes to play dough as soon as there is a second child and is there to stay for subsequent additions to the clan.

Sibling rivalry is one of those primitive dispositions in children’s lives that we don’t like to deal with, let alone acknowledge as a normal and healthy part of socialisation. I’m not saying physical abuse is ok but when children ‘rival’ with each other for the same amount of dosh for pocket money or who’s done the dishes more times or had more turns on the computer, they’re actually exploring ‘fairness’, which is a concept we would like them to know about. Our struggle as parents and grandparents is how to teach them understanding and negotiation for equitable outcomes, compromise, empathy and generosity in sibling rivalry, cos God knows, often it’s easier to send them all to their rooms!!

Sibylesque Sibling Rivalry Awkward family photos

When we stop and talk children through what they’re experiencing and how it might work for them and others we are doing the whole of society a big favour. Now, this isn’t going to be possible with every squabble but acknowledging and naming feelings and being a fair arbitrator not only builds trust but let’s children know that situations can be solved and builds their skills in doing so. They will learn far more about equity from watching and experiencing the actions of the trusted adults in their lives than any social learning program. So grown ups, when you feel disempowered by the ‘rivalry’, remember, there’s a learning opportunity and a purpose in all of it.

Of course, at times, the darlings may just be being little so and so’s. That’s what bedrooms are for. If they won’t go there, you can!!

Penny CookPenny Cook has been an early childhood educator for over 30 years. She loves to travel  – anywhere. Penny is a mother and ‘Nan Pen’, who is continuously fascinated and amazed by her two young grandchildren.  She has always wanted to live in  a tree house by the beach …..it’s never too late!!…….

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Photo source: Awkward Family Photos

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