Few things in life are equally as delightful as they are demanding. Having – and raising – siblings is one such a hybrid happening.
Here are a couple of “traffic lights” (or common daily themes) on this complicated journey of taking care of more than one creature – as well as the politics between them.
Should you stop or proceed?
At the traffic light of ownership
In a home with multiple minors, everything from parents’ attention, space on the couch, toys and food must be shared – often not without a battle.
Green Light: Teach sharing
Nothing imposes sharing on a poor little child like the arrival of a sibling! This is a good thing. Encourage your brood from a young age to be generous and to think of others’ needs. Let them experience the joy of altruism by highlighting things like, “Doesn’t it make you feel good to see how happy you made your brother?” or, “See how nice it is to play together!”
Red Light: Prohibiting individual ownership
However, there is a case to be made for personal possession. A child whose toys are always snatched, food always stolen or opportunities always ruined by a sibling will not walk away with a healthy sense for sharing. It may instead produce anxiety and self-defensiveness that could trigger the contrary of sharing: self-absorption and stinginess. Ensure that no child is being bullied in the name of “sharing”. Consider having a “special possession box” for each child, containing a couple of items that he is not required to share unwillingly.
At the traffic light of nurturing
Loving and disciplining your children (which, by the way, are two sides of the same coin) become less straight-forward when you are surrounded by multiple personalities, developmental stages and demands.
Red light: Unfair treatment
Each child warrants an equal amount of loving care from you – regardless whether they “deserve” it or not. Favouritism and being inconsequential with rules or consequences among siblings could do great harm.
Green light: Differential treatment
Being fair, however, does not mean that you should deal with every child in exactly the same way. Each one of your little ones is unique and may have different love needs and different temperaments. It will, therefore, require a special strategy to raise each one of them. Make sure you know how to reach each one individually.
At the traffic light of conflict
Among plenty of other new titles, you gain the one of “referee” when you become a parent of more than one. Managing quarrels is an inevitable part of the job.
Green light: Assist in conflict management
Older or stronger children can easily undermine more vulnerable ones. To protect the latter and guide the former to use their power in uplifting ways, you will often need to get involved. Teach them positive ways to handle conflicting interests (e.g. to take turns) and negative emotions, such as anger (e.g. counting to ten). Also, your own example in dealing with conflict (especially with your spouse!) will speak very loudly on your behalf.
Red light: Constant interference
On the other hand, always intervening in your children’s battles may thwart their development. Allow them room, in the safe and supervised space of your home, to practice the skills you have taught them. “Debriefing” an incident is sometimes more beneficial than stepping in amid the heat.
At the traffic light of rivalry
Siblings are natural competitors, and the supportive childhood home could be a beautiful training ground for the big bad contest that is adult life.
Red light: Comparison
Never compare one child’s performance, behaviour or appearance with another’s. Be careful what you discuss “behind their backs” – little ears can hear remarkably well! Encourage and develop each child’s unique talents and strengths.
Green light: Allow winning and losing
Being better or worse than others are an inevitable part of life and there is little use in protecting a child against this truth. Celebrate each child’s successes – even if they are more accomplished than a sibling. Make them feel like they are part of one another’s victories by cheering one another on in the home. Moreover, if someone loses – help her overcome her negative emotions rather than always awarding a “fake win”. An essential foundation of good sportsmanship is knowing your value as a person apart from your performance – something which almost nobody can impart to you like your parents can.
Although it is hard work to be a mother to many, the value that those one-of-a-kind sibling relationships add to your own and your children’s lives make the journey totally worth the effort!