Here’s your reality check: “Do your eyes light up with the same intensity when you see each of your kids?” Watch out! Research shows our kids can pick up on our favorites regardless of how great our acting.
Cain and Abel
Paris and Nicky Hilton
Donnie and Marie Osmond
Jack and Bobby Kennedy
Venus and Serena Williams
Alec, Daniel, William, and Stephen Baldwin
All are famous, all are well known, and all are siblings. But whether siblings are among the rich and famous, or just part of our own everyday lives, they do influence how we turn out. Ironically research about siblings has largely been ignored in child development. And that’s despite the fact that siblings actually spend more time together than with their parents! That is until now.
Over the last decade fascinating studies have revealed new insights about sibling relationships that just may be helpful in our parenting. We know that sibling rivalry is indeed normal. (Shouldn’t take rocket science to figure out that one, but at least we can alleviate guilt if our kids aren’t bosom buddies). We also know rivalry can last through adulthood and cloud our childhoods and that our sibs do influence our development. We also now know that those squabbles actually can help our kids learn to handle life better.
Here are nine of the most interesting new research findings about sibling rivalry I will share on the Today show Friday.
• Expect it! Studies show that one third of adults admit to having a rivalrous relationship with their sibs. Those squabbles are jealousies are normal and healthy to a certain extent. Investigations now show that minor sibling tiffs actually help kids learn to handle conflicts and deal with the outside world better.
• Deep down be more intentional. Researchers videoed adolescents interacting with their parents. Though moms and dads adamantly denied having a favorite, their kids still named who was “the most loved sibling.” What’s more, when researchers analyzed the tapes, they could identify the favorite kid as well. Just a word to the wise: Tune into your behavior. As much as we try to not show favoritism, studies reveal that kids do pick up our preferences. A quick quiz is to honestly ask yourself: “Do my eyes light up with the same intensity when you see each of your kids?” Enough said.
• Never compare! Research repeatedly finds that the top reason for sibling rivalry is when parents compare their children. Make this be your sacred vow: Avoid comparisons and emphasize each child’s individual strengths instead.
• Don’t be too involved in those squabbles. The less involved you are in those sib tiffs the better. Your kids won’t use you as negotiator, rivalry will decrease (since won’t accuse you as “taking sides”) and your kids will learn to rely on themselves to solve their own squabbles. While it’s absolutely fine to step in when you hear a blood-curdling cry–take it from a mom of three boys, it cuts down dramatically on emergency room visits so please do–research also shows that kids see our involvement as “showing favoritism.” So step back.
• Keep up with the research! If you hear, “Toddlers are too young to be jealous!” don’t believe it. Texas Tech University researchers videotaped moms told to lovingly caress a doll. Their seven-month olds turned absolutely green-eyed! Babies are much more jealous-prone and emotionally savvy than we ever suspected. Watch your coos (when directed towards another baby anyway).
• Don’t overlook older sibs. Anthropologists discovered that cultures where there is far less sibling jealousy are those in which new babies are taken more in stride. Because our kids are generally raised in smaller households, a newborn becomes a “big deal”, and older sibs are more likely to feel left out. So if you want to reduce “older sibling jealousy,” researchers would tell you to make sure you and your guests don’t overlook your other children.
• Stress conflict resolution. Researchers visited the homes of 90 two year olds and watched how they got along with siblings, then revisited as preschoolers and finally at observed them at school. Those kids who practiced conflict-resolution skills at home (because their parents taught them how to solve their own problems!!!) carried those abilities into the classroom. So, teach your kids how to get along, so they can get along.
• Teach kids problem solving skills. Do teach your kids simple ways to solve their problems. Some of the best are “oldie but goodie” techniques that reduce squabbles such as: rock, paper, scissors; drawing straws, tossing a coin, oven timers (“You can use it until the timer goes off, then it’s my turn”), tossing a dice (“Highest number chooses first”). They are great sanity savers for now, but also teach beginning negotiation skills our kids will need for later.
Bottom line: Most siblings experience some degree of jealousy or competition, but it’s the parents who play a major role in making children feel secure. Being a little more understanding, giving genuine praise and instilling confidence in children, can lead to a secure sibling relationship. The next time you’re hearing battle cries from your kids, pat yourself on the back. It’s normal! Now take a few deep breaths, and remind yourself to use the opportunity to teach your kids a few “get-along skills.” And do remember to enjoy the summer!