“Whatever you can do, I can do better” sibling rivalry

Hello! My husband and I have spent a bit of time getting to know your son and daughter-in-law, Stephen and Nicole, and they shared with me your blog. We have four children, ages 8, 6, 4, and 10 months, and I have a question about sibling bickering. As in, how do I get it to stop!?!?!? :) actually, particularly, my son (6) and my 4 year old daughter…he has a difficult time really liking his sister, it seems. I don’t know if it is because she is the one who followed him first, and so he feels she challenges his place, or really what it is…how to correct and discipline a need to brag about something he got to do and she didn’t, or the constant correcting of her stories, or the frankness with which he insists on commenting: “that joke wasn’t funny,” or some such other comment… Ugh! Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Sibling bickering is found in every family but when it is constant it can be exhausting for a parent.   I think that your little man might be feeling out of place, perhaps a bit like the “middle child”.  In our family I had very little patience for sibling rivalry and most often ignored what was being said.   I would usually tell them to work it out and most often that is what happened.   Even today, I may hear rumblings but problems are solved between siblings via the family email center.

In your case you have a small child who is at the mercy of an older brother.   I would try to give him a sense of importance.   Is there something he could do for his younger sister?   Could he read to her, teach her how to ride a bike, teach her the alphabet…?   You could enlist him as the big brother helper and get him to see how his younger sister needs to be able to look up to him.   By putting her down, he will lose her esteem and she will try to out do him.   If he could only see that he already has a place of importance and that he could encourage her with her abilities, including joke telling!

I also think that one-on-one time is important and especially for Dad to do something with this child.   I’m not sure of the gender of your other children but boy’s day out might be a good idea if you have not already implemented this.  Does he have an activity that is unique to him?  Perhaps a sport or art or an instrument that he could pursue that his siblings are not doing as well? I would try the positive before the negative, BUT I would not allow a child to put down his sister or brother.   The saying: “if you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all” has as much validity today as it ever has.

Another thing we have done in our family is to have a time at dinner when we go around the table and say something nice about one person in the family.   Usually we would do this at birthdays or celebrations, but you could have a special-person day once a week.   So, if it is a day to celebrate mommy, someone would begin by saying  “What I like/love about mommy is … In voicing what we like or love about someone it can reinforce the positive.   There will always be relationships that are more difficult than others but by voicing the positive we give substance to it.

Another thing we did most evenings around the dinner table was highs and lows.   Everyone would tell their high of the day and low of the day.   Sometimes there would be no low or high but most often we would hear some very interesting things.   This can be extremely insightful for the parents (and we parents would share too).  This does take some time to do, and so if your family has a time crunch you might want to limit it to a sentence or so or perhaps do it only certain days of the week.   The important part is to have some sort of routine so that you come to anticipate doing it.   Once in place you will find that your children will ask to do “highs and lows”.

I probably have said this before, but so much of parenting is “hit or miss”.  There is no formula for parenting that is “one size fits all”.   Even today, I am still doing the “hit or miss”, hoping I am getting better at striking a home run after 37 years of being a mum but some days I only hit foul balls…

Parenting will always be our most rewarding experience but also our most humbling.

I wish you the very best and hope tomorrow you hit a grand slam!


About Catherine

Catherine is a mum who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia; she and her husband, Robb, have ten children, and have operated a family medical practice for thirty years. This blog is a place she shares thoughts and answers questions -- especially from other moms, but from anyone! -- about pregnancy and child-rearing, marriage, sickness and health, and lots of other things.
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