Holidays are the season for fun, laughter and family time for children, but for parents who have warring siblings on their hands, the holiday season can be stressful as well. “Sibling rivalry is defined as the jealous and competitive spirit that often exists between brothers and sisters. The rivalry is typical in any family with more than one child,” is how Felicity Bauer, author of Siblings without Rivalry defines the dynamics of this relationship.
As parents, here are some ideas and corresponding nudge activities to help you understand, avoid and manage sibling conflicts this holiday season.
Accept, don’t compare – As parents, you can help your children believe that they are part of one team by not pitting them against each other. Parents do this unknowingly by drawing comparisons between children, believing it will inspire them to learn from each other when, in fact, the very opposite is true. Research suggests that cases of sibling rivalry are lower in families where children feel they are treated equally, and their individuality is respected and valued by their parents.
- Nudge activity – In keeping with the spirit of the bond of siblings, here is a simple NFK activity you can try at home this holiday season. Instead of giving your children their own house chores, break away from the routine and assign them a holiday chore, they need to perform as a team. You could put them in charge of packing the Christmas gifts or send out Christmas cards to family members – anything that requires them to share the load and work together.
- NFK tip – Do remember to compliment the individual effort of each child once they complete their assigned chore. Help them realize how both their individual strength and collective effort has benefited them as a team.
2.Speak your heart – Another important aspect of managing sibling rivalry is to address your children’s grievances and grouses with each other instead of sweeping them under the carpet. In her article titled ‘In a sibling battle be a sportscaster, not a referee,’ psychotherapist Heather Turgeon explains how it is natural for siblings to share feelings of love, anger, frustration and yet feel connected. “If they get the message that we accept only their sunny feelings, they will either put more oomph into the darker ones, so we hear them or repress and hide them from us. Neither of these is a good outcome. Accept negative feelings without judgment. The warm, loving ones will naturally resurface,” she writes.
- Activity – Try playing the Secret Santa game, but with a slight twist. Instead of buying gifts for anyone family member, this version involves each family member writing down one positive and one negative trait about each other and throwing all the chits together in a jar. Now get one family member to read each chit aloud. Then take this activity a step further and discuss how the negative trait/quality in each person can be worked upon. Example – A chit reads that your younger child does not complete his/her chores on time. Then discuss what you as a family, especially siblings, can do to help them with the same. The idea is to help your children understand that families have the privilege of celebrating each other’s positives and working on each other’s shortcomings as a unit.
NFK Tip – Don’t interrupt or try to add to the praise o criticism of another family member. Your child must think of this as a fun exercise and not a reprimanding session for him/her.
- Intervene, don’t interrupt – Remember that most children are natural problem solvers. One of the most significant advantages of having a sibling is that they learn negotiation skills and how to make the best of any situation from a young age. In his article titled ‘Why sibling rivalry is good for kids?’ Signe Whitson writes “Whether, in times of war or periods of peace, there is one thing sibling relationships have in common: Siblings can be each others’ very best teachers.” So when it comes to fights and arguments, let your children handle the situation and intervene if things are getting out of hand.
- Activity –Instead of focusing on their arguments focus on strengthening the bond between your children. A good way to start this is by involving siblings in each other’s bedtime routine. Nudge your older child to read a story to their younger sibling or tell them a fun story. It is a great way to them feel responsible for their younger brother/sister in a positive, fun way.
- NFK Tip – If your children share a room and if you hear them having a conversation after lights out, don’t interrupt them. Talking and sharing things is an organic and effective way for siblings to bond.
Experts suggest that parents can nurture a positive sibling relationship by focusing on family togetherness and extending equal love to children early on. NFK says this holiday season is the best time to start building this bond and make it a truly merry Christmas!
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