Sibling Rivalry

by Dawn
(Clermont )

I'm going to be homeschooling for the first time this upcoming year and I'm concerned about sibling rivalry. I have a 6 yr old boy and an 11 yr old girl. I'm nervous about the harmony in the house. They are always bickering and arguing! My boy has always been a little advanced and beyond his years. He always wants to do what his sister does, which he is very capable of. This bothers my 11 yr old and cramps her space. It's like everything is always a competition and never ends well.

How can I give them each their individuality and also teach my 6 yr old that there is a difference between being 6 and 11, without hurting him or making him feel like he's not good enough, or capable? I should also mention he is very sensitive when it comes to not feeling "good enough" or "different" from his sister. I know I need to establish a healthy relationship between the two of them. How can I give my 11 yr old the credit and affirmation she deserves without my 6 yr old feeling jealous or angry because it's not "even"? Hope that's not too much..I APPRECIATE any advice!

Kristina's Response to Sibling Rivalry:

Congratulations on homeschooling! The good news is that if there are any issues with harmonious interactions between your kids, you now will have the opportunity to address them all of the time and solve the problem permanently, rather than simply avoiding its occurrence by separating the kids all day. It will work out and it will be great, although of course it won't be perfect!

Although your younger child may be very capable and want to do the same activities as your older daughter, try as often as possible to have him choose what activity he wants to do first, set him up with that, and then set your daughter up with her activity. You will want to encourage both of them in their individuality, and the idea that "copy cat" behavior isn't the way to go! For instance, rather than having your daughter do archery as her physical education elective this fall, and then allowing your son to piggyback on that, have him choose first. Let's say he chooses soccer, and she chooses softball. This is great - they can practice at the same time, but doing something completely different. Together, but different and age-appropriate activities with skill-appropriate individual goals. Or let's say you want them both to work on math at 10am. If your son is advanced for his age and he's working on some basic multiplication or long digit subtraction, then that day your daughter works on word problems.

Always your kids need to more and more realize that they are individuals and will have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. Also, they must realize that certain privileges only come with experience (more time on this earth), and so certain things, like being allowed to stay home alone when you run to the grocery store, are appropriate for an 11 year old, but not for a 6 year old. This is a fact of life and something that he can learn to understand. Just because he is capable, doesn't mean it's appropriate for him to do everything your 11 year old does, and that is not something you have to shy away from as though it will damage his self confidence, even though he is sensitive. If you tiptoe around issues like that as though you are afraid that it will hurt his feelings, it will reinforce any inclination he has to feel slighted by it.

You can also help him feel special in other ways. For instance, the more he does his own activities instead of the same ones as his sister, the more he will re-focus on himself and his own goals, as opposed to always reaching for her goals, and he will gain a sense of individual accomplishment and ability that is not just comparative, but real. And, you can help him feel special and unique in the other ways that he is unique. When you do history lessons or biology lessons and talk about male/female differences, you can help reinforce the unique roles that your boy and your girl play in nature and culture. Some activities might be "special" just for him, like Boy Scouts, boys' choir, or baseball, whereas your daughter may be involved in an all-girls debate team, Brownies, or softball. It is ok that some (not all) activities are age or gender specific, and they can help your kids differentiate themselves from each other.

Make sure to praise both of your kids for reaching their goals, or making improvements on past performance. This will produce better results and a healthier thought pattern than praising them based on sheer results. For instance if your son can hit the baseball off the T on his first try every time and has never had to work on it, but your daughter can only do it every 4th or 5th time, you can praise your daughter for her hard work and how much she is improving each time she practices and encourage her to keep up the great work so that eventually she can hit it on every try. At the same time you'll be encouraging your son to work hard too, and maybe now try to aim the ball to left or right field, and praising him for his efforts to bring his natural talent under more focused control... Creating individual goals based on each kid's skill, and praising them based on reaching their goals or hard work towards their goals, may help them to stop competing based on sheer results, and start competing based on time spent practicing or goals reached. It will also form healthy habits.

If your son struggles with doing the same activities as his sister and not doing as well as she does, because she is 11 and he is 6, you could point out areas that he excels for his age. For instance, you could say, "Wow, I had training wheels until I was 7, but you already are riding a two-wheeler!" Even though he was feeling bad that his sister can ride her bike around the block without supervision or tackle more difficult mountain bike trails than he can, he can feel proud that he is excelling in his own realm, and he as a 6 year old boy is not being compared to his 11 year old sister.

This will be a process for him because being close enough in age for your kids to still be kids together, but far enough in age that there is a significant difference in what they are capable of and what is appropriate for them to be doing, is a challenging spot. But as you already are doing, just continue to emphasize individual goals, hard work, progress rather than sheer results, how awesome their differences are, and how proud you are of each of them. For the time being, you MIGHT have to make a "rule" that family members don't compete against family members, or that copy cats aren't allowed. Copy catting can be compared to "stealing" someone else's idea, or trying to step on someone else's toes and ruin their experience. And competition between family members (or siblings specifically) shouldn't happen because how can we cheer on our siblings and be supportive of them like we are supposed to be, if we are trying to beat them? While they are this age and going through this specific issue, you may have to make those house rules until they are mature enough to not try to compete.

Later in life they may be mature enough to compete with each other in a healthy and supportive way! Not all competition is bad, including sibling rivalry. But for now, help them understand their unique roles and what ways they should be interacting with each other when it comes to activities like that.

Good luck!

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