Here is another very valuable piece from the Finn Valley/ Springboard Family Support Project booklet “Parenting Through Covid-19 – helpful hints to keep home life happy”. This piece, on sibling relationships is written by Jo Sledge Brennan, a Family Support Worker with Springboard.
Sibling relationships are unique, authentic and invaluable, yet they can be one of the most difficult relationships to navigate as a parent. Often these relationships are filled with rivalry, jealousy and competitiveness from an early age and can be extremely frustrating, exhausting and upsetting for parent’s to handle. However, it’s good to point out that for most of us, although this conflict may be high, more often than not the good, fun days more than balance out.
As parents, it’s important we consider our part to play in encouraging positive
sibling relationships. Our children are after all, mainly in conflict with each other in order to gain more love and affection from you than their sibling/s. This rivalry can be intense but it can also have a lasting effect on children, so it’s important to remind them how much they are loved, equally, every day. Don’t be afraid to show your love, no matter what age they are. The first step to encouraging healthy sibling relationships is setting the ground rules for play for example, what behaviours are acceptable and what behaviours are not; no hitting, no name calling etc. You could get your children involved in this too. Find out what behaviours they are most annoyed by with each other, listen to them and make them ground rules so there is no confusion. This way, you’re anticipating the problems, you’re one step ahead!
It’s also important to avoid making comparisons between your children. All children have their own qualities and attributes; they are all unique. Showing an understanding of this will not only strengthen your relationship with them but it will give them a greater respect for each other and build on their own self-esteem. Children like to be seen as individuals; they are individuals. What they share with their sibling is often the same parent/s, their environment, similar experiences and similar memories but they are all individual.
There will be differences; there could be age gaps, different sexes of children,
different interests and needs but what they have in common is you, their parent.
Teach them to understand their differences and to appreciate them. Encourage them to have a good time together by noticing what activities they enjoy doing together, though this can be tough when there are age and interest gaps. In this instance, try cooking together or art, or some form of exercise that you can all do together at least one or two shared activities a day. A scavenger hunt can be good fun, or play cards, or any game or activity that puts the adults against the kids, get them playing and working together.
When there is conflict, try to step back and let them resolve it, try not to get too involved in petty battles. Moderate levels of conflict are a healthy sign that they each can express their needs or wants. If you need to step in, remind them of the ground rules. If all else fails and you need to end the play, talk to each child and listen. You could then allow them to vent, just a little and find out what went wrong before you set the ground rules for the next play. It can sometimes help to ask each child to describe how they feel and have the other child listen. All of this sounds like hard work and it is, nobody ever said that parenting was easy, but there are so many benefits to developing healthy sibling relationships, children may learn to:
• develop their social skills
• navigate power struggles
• try to compromise
• resolve conflicts
• to be assertive
• be empathetic to others’
• respect rules and values
I’m sure all of us would be very happy parents if our children developed the above qualities and attributes from your child’s first peer group; their sibling.
Short Exercise that Children and Young people can do with their siblings:
- My favourite memory with you is ……
- I think you are good at …..
- Things that I like about you …..
- Things that you do that annoy/upset me …..
- Things I like about having a brother and/or sister …..
- One thing I like to do together …..
More ideas and information on a variety of topics to help families get through this tough time are available in the booklet
Our thanks to Jo Sledge Brennan and the teams at Finn Valley FRC and Springboard Family Support Project for these resources.