2 Is a Party, 3 Is a Crowd (As Told By My Daughter)
Much as we try to make our kids feel equally loved, they accuse us of showing “favoritism.” I recently received the following email from a twelve-year old boy named Jordan. His message shows the damage of parental favoritism:
I know my dad loves me and wants me to do really well in life, but he’s making me -feel so bad about myself. All he does is compare me to my brother and tell me I should try to be more like him. I know I can never be like him, but the worst thing is I’m starting to hate my brother. I don’t mean to. I just do. Can you help me?
His message hurts, doesn’t it? We don’t mean to play favorites and deliberately set out to make one kid feel less loved. But if we’re not careful, our subtle day-to-day behaviors can set up deadly feelings of jealousy amongst siblings. And those feelings can take from family harmony as well as last a lifetime.
Of course, treating kids equally is plain unrealistic: they come packaged with different temperaments, interests, and needs. So don’t drive yourself too crazy trying to always make things always fair. The real trick is to minimize conditions that break down sibling relationships and cause long-lasting resentment. Bottom line: while some rivalry is unavoidable, parents can discourage sibling disharmony by giving careful attention to how their household atmosphere is structured. Here are seven ideas to guide you in minimizing jealousy and disharmony amongst siblings:
- Refrain from comparing behaviors. Never compare or praise one kid’s behavior in contrast to a sibling: it can create long-lasting strains. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” “Why aren’t you organized like your brother?” All too easily, kids can interpret such comparisons as: “You think he’s better than me” or “You love him more.” It unfairly puts pressure on the sibling you praised and devalues your other child.
- Listen openly to all sides. Listening fairly your kids is not only a powerful way to convey that you respect each child’s thoughts and want to hear all sides: “Thanks for sharing. Now I want to hear your brother’s side.” The key is to build a fair relationship with each sibling so that he or she knows not only that you value each opinion and you’re an unbiased listener.
- Never compare schoolwork. Kids should compare their schoolwork, test scores, and report cards only to their own previous work—never to the work of their siblings or friends. Instead of stimulating a child to work harder, comparisons are more likely to fuel resentment.
- Avoid using negative labels. Family nicknames like Shorty, Clumsy, or Klutz can cause unfair family ribbings and fuel sibling resentment. “Don’t worry, he’s just the family klutz”-as well as become daily reminders of incompetence. These kinds of labels often stick and become difficult to erase, not only within but also outside your family as well.
- Nurture a unique strength for each sibling. All kids deserve to hear from parents what makes them unique. Knowledge of that talent nurtures their self-esteem as well as setting them apart from their siblings. Ideally, you should nurture a different strength for each sibling based on natural temperament and interests. Once you identify the talent, find opportunities to cultivate and validate it so each child can be acknowledged for their strength.