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Dealing With Sibling Rivalry With Val Mullally

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Two weeks ago we dealt with temper tantrums and so we have decided to deal with sibling rivalry today.

Val Mullally - Parenting Coach profile:
Val Mullally MA is founder of PACER providing training for effective parenting. She is an author, workshop presenter, parenting coach and early education consultant. Her first book, 'Working with Under Sixes', is aimed at those working with groups of children. She is currently writing her second book, developing the concept of 'Conscious Parenting'. She also contributes regularly to local radio on issues concerning parenting.
Val's caring, relaxed and friendly approach, using easily understandable principles and drawing from helpful and often humorous illustrations, supports parents, carers and teachers in creating structure and emotional safety within the home and all childcare environments, to nurture the well-being of all concerned. She pays particular attention to each individual's inner world experience (both that of the child and of the adult). Val draws on the wisdom of many years' experience, as a mother, teacher and principal. She has recent, very relevant training, which brings a fresh paradigm of key principles to parenting.
She holds a Masters degree in Holistic Development, majoring in Family Ministry, (DCU, Dublin), as well as a Certificate in Interpersonal Communications - Training to Work with Parents, (UCC, Cork). Val and her husband have spent many years in Africa and are now settled in Ireland.

Does the following email sound familiar to any of you at home?

" Dear Afternoon Show, I am having awful  problems with my children who are constantly fighting. They compete with each other all the time. They are twin boys and are always screaming at each other, hitting each other. Mealtimes and bath times have become a nightmare. I am at my wits end. Please help, Bairbre in Co. Cork. "

Is sibling rivalry normal?
I fought a lot with my older sister.  And my older son used to give my younger son a hard time - but he'd stand up for him if anyone else tried to hurt him.

In most families sibling rivalry appears during some stage of children growing up.
The jostling between siblings is a healthy opportunity to learn to interact with others in the world. What matters is that we give them the support to learn to do so in a way that isn't hurting one another - physically or emotionally. 

But don't parents want their children to be friends?
We often have dreams that our children will be best friends - but every child has his or her own unique personality - and that means siblings won't automatically like each other. What matters is that we help children to learn how to negotiate and resolve differences - one of the most important life lessons they can have.

When children make comments like 'You never spend time with me' or 'you're always doing something with her.' And you try to reason with them sometimes they just seem to get even more upset? 
When children make upset statement like; 'You always take her out.' or 'You never buy me stuff like that.'  They are calling out to you from a place of hurt. It's not helpful to try to reason with them at these times. Rather it's more helpful to respond to the emotions that you are hearing.

e.g. 'It sounds like you're upset about that. And what you'd really like is'
(Leave the sentence unfinished so that the child can tell you)

Then they're more likely to tell us what they experiencing and you can figure out how to best support their emotional need.  Recognise that expressions like 'always' / 'never' in this context are not facts - they are the child's attempt to express their deeply painful emotions.
The child needs to be 'held' in his emotional pain.

How can parents help their children learn to fight in a way that's not hurtful?
It's really important for parents to try to understand the child's perspective. The fighting is often the fruit of the problem and we need to get back and deal with the root. For example, when your child feels that they are being compared to their sister that leads to fighting.  When children are not reassured that we love them for their own unique selves they will fall into the role that they think is expected of them.

Bart Simpson is a perfect example of this. Lisa is the 'good one' so Bart's s standpoint is 'I'm best at being worst.'

What matters is that we:

. Create a win - win situation.
Create a win - win situation where both children are satisfied with the solution.  Whenever we end up with someone feeling like a loser - the problem will rear its head again.

. Intervene
Try to intervene before they get too het up.

. Protect them from getting hurt
Always intervene if someone is in danger of being hurt.

. Calm down 
When we're really angry the adrenalin is really pushing in our systems and we can't think straight.  So neither children nor adults can be reasonable when they're really upset.

. Try to get them to resolve the conflict
If its bickering starting, you can call out to children,
'I hear fighting  - do you need me or can you sort it out?'

If they need your help calm them down, first make sure you've calmed yourself, then listen to them (one at a time!)  and mirror what they have said - expressing what they might be feeling. When you've heard both say;

'I hear that Jimmy is wanting / and Lorinda is wanting to .
You should work with your children on producing a solution to this as we often underestimate children's ability to think creatively. When we model that conflict can be resolved without roaring and screaming - they will follow our example.

It's easy to feel fed up with children's bickering and if we consider that the problems we have in society at large, with smaller or weaker countries feeling unheard or large powerful countries ignoring the needs of others - it's the same issues as sibling rivalry on a much larger scale. Our support in helping our children learning to deal with conflict to create win-win situations can literally make this world a happier more peaceful place.  Many little acts of support to our children are no little thing!