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When you compare siblings, you devalue one child while putting too much pressure on the other.

How are siblings and huge homework assignments alike?

…tell your child what you find special about him as well as brainstorm ideas to promote his unique talents.

Well, we can learn from them both and each has a tendency to be a big pain in the neck. Although, once you complete an assignment and get your grade for better or worse, you move on. Siblings, on the other hand, are a continual gauge of our social skills and empathy.

No comparison

The Ministry of Alberta Children's Services explains that sibling rivalry often arises out of competition for parental attention. Consequently, comparing children (for example, "Your brother always behaves when we go shopping!") can cause resentful competition.

This is especially true of schoolwork, according to Michele Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know (Jossey-Bass). She says, "Kids should compare their schoolwork, test scores, and report cards only to their own previous work — never to the work of their siblings ..."

Imagine your child telling you, "Lisa goes on great vacations because her mom is a CEO making lots of money!" or, "Jason's dad is the best soccer coach ever! How come you don't coach, Dad?" Now how eagerly would you invite Lisa's mom or Jason's dad over for dinner? Thought so!

Likewise, you can understand why, as Borba reveals, when you compare siblings, you devalue one child while putting too much pressure on the other.

Time share

"Set aside 'alone time' for each child," say the folks at the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). Use such moments to tell your child what you find special about him as well as brainstorm ideas to promote his unique talents.

What qualifies as one-on-one time? Borba suggests walks, movies, or a meal out. Hire a babysitter for the other kids, or better yet, plan for your spouse to spend one-on-one-time with another sibling.

Alberta Children's Services suggests you seize the time just before bed or during the transition between work and home.

Unsure of your kids' friendship status? The UMHS suggests you privately "ask [each child] once in a while what they like most and least about each brother and sister"

Support system

You know the phrase, "catch them being good"? Praise kids when you catch them being good to each other. Perhaps you can set up opportunities for cooperation.

Ask older siblings to teach younger kids how to tie shoes, set the table, or perform a sports skill. Encourage siblings to pray for each other, especially when one is going through a tough time.

Make sure children "overhear' you praising their efforts to Aunt Grace on the phone.

Unequal rights

While its important to treat children fairly, equal treatment is another matter. Why? Routinely doling out everything in equal quantities leads to idealistic expectations, plus "she got, I didn't" resentment.

"Trying to treat kids equally is plain unrealistic ..." says Borba. "Our kids come packaged with different temperaments, interests, and needs."

Focus on the individual and let your offspring know that nothing in life falls to everyone equally, except God's love.

House rules

"Involve your children in setting ground rules ... with clear and consistent consequences for breaking them," says the UMHS. Suggestions include no hurting one another, no name-calling or tattling, toys that are fought over get confiscated, the "me-first" sibling goes last, and those who tease a child who is serving a consequence get the same consequence.

Intelligent intervention

As long as your kids aren't trying to resolve differences through violence or by breaking family rules, experts suggest you stay out of sibling squabbles. Your absence allows kids to develop negotiating skills. What's more, (an Internet project of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children) claims, '`The more you intervene, the more you will be called upon to intervene."

When you must step in, do not take sides. This only fuels resentment through perceived favouritism. Do, however, encourage all involved to express their feelings without telling them what to feel.

Remember that in addition to demonstrating compromise, respect, and fairness yourself, you can hold up Christ as an example of loving behaviour.

While you can't ensure your kids will never fight again, you can make the road to lifelong sibling companionship easier and more meaningful for your children to follow.

Kim Perrone enjoys writing inspirational parenting, family and human interest articles for publications such as Living Light News. She can be reached at Visit her blog for inspiring kids to learn at:

Originally published in Living Light News, January/February 2008.




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