When Your Kids Compete

When Your Kids CompeteSibling rivalry can easily be one of the most difficult parts of child rearing. In our house, no day is complete without a battle between our two boys, ages 3 and 6. When they wake up, they are racing to my bedroom to see who can get there first. It continues throughout our day: Who got the bigger piece of pizza? Who got to the car the quickest? Who is the better Lego builder? Even when they show affection for one another, it’s not uncommon to hear my one say, “Let’s see who can hug the tightest!” Sometimes my house feels like the sibling Olympics, yet everyone seems to be losing.

Recently, in an effort to make our house a little more harmonious, I started researching ways to fix this issue. Subconsciously, I think we had been fueling the rivalry between our boys. We knew we were doing something incorrectly; the problem seemed to be getting worse, not better, with age. When I asked my friends if their children were as competitive as mine, I’d get a mixed response, but for the most part, most assure me that it is normal for two same-sex children close in age to fight. I agree that a lot of the fighting is normal, but research suggests that although it can be inevitable, there also techniques that can lessen these types of squabbles. Here are a few that we’ve found to work.

Bickering Spouses =  Bickering Kids

According to psychologist Jocelyn R. Miller, kids whose parents argue are much more likely to be competitive with one another. Although arguing might seem like an obvious learned behavior, it can be pretty humbling to admit that the same behavior that drives you nuts in your kids is also something you may be doing with your spouse. Although I would say that my husband and I are very happy with each other, we do tend to bicker quite often, mostly in a teasing way. We have always laughed this off as “just the way we communicate,” but when it affects the children it is time to re-learn ways to express disagreements.  We’ve been trying to get out of the habit of jokingly arguing, which we seem to do a lot, and instead use kindness and compassion with each other. There is a definite correlation between our own kindness to one another and our children’s kindness to each other.

Plan One-on-One time with Each Child Regularly

Another big part of sibling rivalry seems to stem from one or more children not feeling like they are confident in the relationship with their parents. Until recently, our family did almost every single activity together. Our kids were never apart except at school or when they had individual play dates. Incorporating parental one-on-one time with each child can help them feel valued and an important part of the family. We are now trying to make sure that each of us gets a “mom date” or a “dad date” with each child separately, giving them time to have our undivided attention.

Give the Older Child an Important Role

I feel like my kids are most connected when my oldest is given the task as nurturer, teacher, or protector vs. competitor. One strategy that we’ve been trying is have my oldest show his younger brother how he does things, such as pouring his own milk in his cereal, to putting on his shoes. When my oldest takes the attention off of “winning” and instead becomes the teacher, both kids seem to focus more on the task and less on the competition.

Avoid Labeling

I am the first to admit, I am absolutely terrible at labeling my kids. For years I have always introduced C as the “rule follower” and the R as the “wild child.” It is hard not to take notice of your children’s differences, both positive and negative. But as soon as you start putting them into a specific box, such as the “smart one” or the “adventurous one,” you’ve pigeonholed them into a specific category and set them up as competitors and not teammates. If you refer to your oldest as the smart one, then your other children will inevitably rebel or battle for that title.

Resources

Thankfully, there are many resources available if you are experiencing a similar sibling rivalry like ours. Some of my favorite ones were Dr. Sears and Supernanny. And don’t fret; sibling rivalry is common and normal. With time and small habit changes you can make your home more harmonious and less conflict-driven.

Tessa Wesnitzer is a health and wellness coach who lives in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves her husband, two boys, green tea, long runs, and snowy winters.

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