By Lisa Reichelt, Parent Coach
Sibling rivalry is an unavoidable reality in family life. I grew up in a family of 8 siblings and we were masters at rivalry! My brothers used to “manage” my sister and I as we put on kid-sized boxing gloves and used the front entry of our home as our boxing ring. My youngest sister enjoyed being the “bell ringer.” We each took great pride when we won the match and earned the praise of our older brother.
This was all in fun, but sibling rivalry is nothing to laugh about. Julie, a mother of 3, recently expressed concern when her eight year old daughter, Ella, declared through her tears, “My siblings treat me like trash!” Ella has a 6 year old sister and a 7 year old brother. She is a shy, sensitive girl and very introspective. Her brother and sister tend to be more outgoing and often leave her out of their play. But Ella had a point. Sometimes her siblings mistreated her.
For example, Ella got angry at her sister for holding a door closed when she was trying to enter the room. Her sister explained that all she wanted was some privacy. The two girls weren’t able to see eye to eye on the situation. Ella took the rejection personally. Sometimes her siblings seem to gang up on her which causes even more angst.
Goal Setting Strategy
Julie’s goal is to help Ella to have a better picture of the real relationship she has with her siblings and to teach Ella to appreciate her siblings. Additionally, Ella needed to see how her response to her siblings impacted their interest in continuing to include her in their activities. Ella, being the oldest, often carried an air of superiority.
It is difficult for a parent to assist their child in recognizing behaviors that negatively impact relationships. Self-reflection is a struggle even for adults. So how can Julie help Ella to reflect on her own behavior and learn from it? How can Julie empower Ella in her relationships with her siblings and refrain from being the parent/micro-manager of their interactions? Setting goals can help.
Julie helped Ella verbalize two goals she has for her relationship with her siblings. These goals need to be specific and measurable.
Goal setting with 8 year olds? You bet!
For Ella, the goals were simple
- Spend 1 hour playing with each of her siblings separately without getting upset with them.
- Play a game or do an activity that the sibling suggested, even though it wasn’t her preferred activity.
How can you help your child set goals to reduce rivalry?
- Start small- help your child think of a couple easy things to accomplish
- Make the goal measurable-not general. A goal of “being nice to my sister” is not measurable. A goal of “giving my sister 2 compliments a day” is measurable.
- The goal should be attainable in a short time. Remember, kids have short attention spans. (link to sample editable goals chart https://tinyurl.com/y3cuecka)
- Recognize their progress often and publicly. Children flourish when praise is authentic and nothing pleases them more than having their parents attention.
Julie and Ella decided she had three weeks to work on these goals and as she did, Julie would record her progress. As she made progress, they agreed to a reward of a movie date with Dad. Julie also reinforced for Ella the understanding that she only has control of her own actions, not those of her siblings. These are great lessons for any aged child.