Tag Archives: Sibling Rivalry

Parents Playing Financial Favorites

“It’s not fair!”

A lot of siblings are treated differently by their parents, and the reason is simple: people are human. They say and do stupid things from time to time because they’re not perfect little computers (even perfect little computers crash and get viruses). 

Now, I’m sure when your kids ask you, “Who do you love more?,” you just look perplexed and say that you love them in different ways.  You tell them, “How can I love one more,” and then go through the litany of “I love your kindness” or “I like that you play soccer, but I also like that she plays basketball,” etc.  You try to say that love is not quantifiable and that you love them for all the unique things they each are.

But in real life, it doesn’t work out that way.  Parents often either show more attention to the kid who is easier to get along with, or they end up giving more attention to the kid who’s a pain in the butt because they’re trying to straighten them out.  That happens a lot.  At birth, some little babies are cuddly and some are colicky.  You’re going to feel a little more relaxed and bonded to the kid who is cuddly.

There are so many subtle things that influence parents, especially when giving money to their kids.  Financial favoritism causes a lot of family discord.   And if there are secrets involved, things can explode. 

There have been so many times I’ve had a competent, confident, healthy individual call into the show who is doing well in life but is really upset because time, effort, and money are being given to their loser sibling.  And I’ve had to explain time and again the sad reality: “You?  They’re just grateful you’re doing fine.  They don’t have to worry about you.  They’re worried about the other one, and that’s why they keep throwing fuel into the fire – to try and get the other one straightened out so they can be like you.” It’s really difficult to work hard your whole life to achieve a good lifestyle to find out that your irresponsible sibling is getting supported all the way along.  It seems unfair. Your parents are constantly throwing good money at the bad kid, trying to fix his or her ways, and their handouts only create dependency.  Why shouldn’t the ne’er-do-well have to go out and make it work on his or her own? 

You’ve heard me so many times (I hope) on the program saying to parents, “Let them go.  What’s going to happen?  They’ll have to figure it out.”  And then they respond back, “But they’ll hit bottom!  They’ll be miserable!  They might live on the street!  They might live in their car!  They might live with their friends!  They might shack up!  They might…” 

But do you know what?  They will work it out.  They’ll figure it out if you’re out of the equation.

Now, of course, parents can do whatever they darn well want to do with their money -they can give it away, they can spend it…whatever.  But you parents ought to remember that when you show favoritism after death with money, you’re going to leave behind you a big problem in the family.  The kidlets are not going to get along.  They’re going to be angry with each other.  So it’s good, before death, to sit down with your kids and clarify what your intentions are and why.  You need to talk it out because if there’s a sibling who is reasonably irresponsible, the good kids are really going to be ticked off that they have to share equally with somebody who they feel hasn’t earned that position.

It’s natural to want to fix things for your kids.  Nevertheless, you should carefully consider how your decisions will impact the relationship you have with each different child and the relationships they have with each other.  It can really put a bomb in the family.

My advice is this: die poor.  Do it like the pharaohs and bury it all with you.  That way nobody can fight over it because it’s all six feet under with you. 

…But even then somebody will dig it up.  You know that, right?

How to Help Your Older Child Adjust to the New Baby

Helping an older child adjust to a new baby being brought home can be difficult.  I’ve got some tips for how you can acclimate your child to the new situation based on an article published in Psychology Today

First, inform your older child you are having a baby.   Then, you have to tell them why because in a kid’s mind, the first thought is, “What?!  I’m not enough?  You don’t like me and are replacing me?”  For example, you could say, “We decided to have another baby so you could have a brother or sister, and you will never be lonely,” or you could tell them, “When you come home from kindergarten, you will have a little playmate.”   Even if their sibling won’t be able to do much for a while, it’s still something you can have them look forward to.
Second, tell your child some kind of success story.  Say, “Mommy is such good friends with her brother, your Uncle George, and it’s nice to have a brother and a sister.  We want you to have that kind of fun relationship.”  So, you are setting something up for them that already exists that they can appreciate.

Next, reassure your child that love does not get subdivided.  If you have a pizza and half the pizza goes to someone else, the child knows he or she is only getting half the pizza.  That’s a child’s mind.  You have to tell the child, “It’s not like pizza or a cookie.  Love grows.  There’s always more, more, more.  There’s love for Mommy, there’s love for Daddy, there’s love for you, there’s love for aunts, uncles, grandmas, cousins, and the new baby.  Mommy and Daddy have so much love you’re not going to miss out on one shred of love.”

Also, it’s really important that you show your child his or her baby pictures.  Show them when they were first born, when you had to feed them, when you had to bathe them, etc.  Say, “See you couldn’t do this yourself when you were a baby.  Now, you’re a big kid and can do it all.  But at the time, Mommy and Daddy had to do it for you.”  This will help the older child understand he or she received the same kind of attention the new baby is going to get.  Reassure your child that over time the baby’s going to grow up just like them.  He or she is going to be able to do things by him/herself and won’t take up as much time.  You have to remind yourself of that too.  I had to remind myself of this too because I thought the rest of my life was going to be spent with a screaming kid.  But kids go through phases, and this one will pass.

Another thing you can do is educate your child about babies.  If you know a family with a new baby, bring your kid over there.  You can show your child how tiny, fragile and dependent babies are.  Show your child that everybody will need to be gentle.  Point out how babies can get really annoying and cry, but they sleep a lot.  Admit, “When the baby’s first here, he or she is not going to be able to play your favorite games.  You have to wait until he or she is older.”  But then, talk about the things they can do with the baby – take it for walks, sing to it, read to it, hold it, etc. 

One of the things to always point out is that your child will have a special role as a brother or sister.  Talk about how they will be able to teach their brother or sister the alphabet, counting, writing, and riding tricycles.  Explain how the baby’s going to look up to them as a brother or sister because they already know so many amazing things. 

It’s also really important to talk about their emotions.   The truth is sometimes they are going to feel left out, angry, and annoyed because they want the attention, and the baby is either getting it or just being noisy.  These are all normal feelings.  You have to acknowledge that they’re normal.  You can say, “Sweetie, when you feel like you need a hug, just come over.  When I’m feeding the baby, you can cuddle with me, and I can read you a book while the baby’s drinking the bottle or drinking from Momma.  But sometimes sweetie, you will have to wait because it takes time to put the bottle together (or whatever it is you’re doing) and babies can’t wait.  Big boys and girls can wait a little bit, but babies can’t.  So while the baby is a baby, there are going to be times where you are probably going to be a little annoyed.   But you’re a big kid and can do some things for yourself; the baby can’t do anything.”   When you lay out what all the emotions are probably going to be, then kids don’t feel ambivalence, guilt, anger, annoyance, and rage.  They are also less likely to act out violently.

Lastly, make your older child feel involved.  Tell them when the baby comes, it would be nice if they would pick out its clothes or bib.  That way, they feel a sense of some responsibility.  When you ask kids their opinion and give them some responsibility and power, it’s amazing how they get less petty because they still feel important.

Resolving Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up; there’s no way to avoid it.  Your best efforts won’t avoid it.  We can help minimize it, and sometimes redirect it but there’s no way to avoid it.

Sibling rivalry is probably at its worst when kids are all under the age of 4.  When they’re less than 3 years apart, they’re very dependent.  Think about it:  they can’t go cook a microwave dinner.  They’re very dependent upon “Mommy,” so subdividing “Mommy” is a threat.
If you look at dogs, the females have what looks like a million teats, so if they have a large number of puppies born, all the puppies get to eat.  If you have 3 kids, you don’t have  3 breasts, which makes it a little tougher and you usually don’t breastfeed two at the same time.  I don’t know why not, but you don’t.  So as far as resources of love and attention go, you’ve got one “Mommy,” and many demands.
From age 4 and up – competition between brothers and sisters can heat up.  It’s usually the worst between 8 and 12 because if they don’t have the same interests, there’s pull and push and who’s better, who’s smarter, who is more important, who gets more attention, who does better in school, who does better in sports…all of that.
So here are some quickie ways to handle conflict between kids:

You have to treat each kid as an individual. Parents tend to fall into the trap of “I’m going to love and treat all my children the same”.  Well, the kids are not the same – they don’t have the same personalities, they don’t have the same needs, they don’t have the same emotional reflexes (much less physical reflexes).  What parents should focus on is identifying and reinforcing the diversity of talent:  i.e., “you’re unique at this and you’re unique at that.”  And it’s really good to sit with kids when the younger ones are looking, for example, at the amazing talent of the older one or sometimes it’s the other way around.  And you sit down and you go, “Here’s the deal.  You have Mommy and Daddy here.  Mommy is very good at ‘blank’; Daddy is not so good at ‘blank’.  Daddy is good at ‘that’ and Mommy’s not so good at ‘that’ because we’re different people.  And when Daddy does really good at ‘that’, I applaud.  And when Daddy sees I’m good at ‘that’, he applauds.  So we’re happy about the fact that we’re different and we have these good things to applaud.”  And you teach your kids to do the same thing.  “You are definitely fabulous at math, but you are also incredible at art.  So when your brother or sister needs to do an art project, you ought to help.”  “When you’re having some trouble with math, go to your brother or sister.  They’ll help you.”

Having a sibling in the position of administering parental support breeds a bond as long as it’s not done as a discount.  Any time kids are getting along try saying: “That’s great how you guys are playing.  I really like seeing that; it makes me feel good.  You both look so happy and, you know, you’re working things out.  That’s really nice.”  The more you can look for the times that work and make a comment, the better.
You’ve got to really spend time with each kid alone.  Everything can’t be a team effort.  There has to be special time where you go to the library with one, a ball game with the other, a museum with this one, lunch with that one…they all have to have special time…reading, taking a walk, running an errand…special time. 
Look at how YOU are getting along with your spouse.  Poop rolls downhill (unless it’s stuck in something).  So when you’re bickering with each other with the criticism and the anger and not being happy, the kids will do it with each other.  The tension works that way.  Through words and actions, you’ve got to be very love-ish:  a lot of hugging, a lot of kissing, a lot of tweaking, a lot of cuteness…just a lot of cuteness.  I mean, my kid is 25, 6’2″, 208 pounds and when I see him, I come behind him and I give him a big smooch on the top of his head and mess his hair.  Of course, if you mess your kid’s hair, you’re going to get in trouble. But, short of that, always be very affectionate.  It’s a very important part of life.

I really think parents who try to get their kids to always do stuff together are making a mistake.  Kids need their own time, alone time and their own friend time.  So you don’t tell your kid, “Bring along your younger sister or brother.”  Don’t do that.  Don’t ever do that.  They need their own time with their own buddies.  If you want a babysitter, pay them 5 bucks an hour.  It’s very important to have kids feel special and you can rotate: special kid of the day.  Okay, we do this in this order: 1, 2, 3, 4…(however many kids you have)…in that order, you’re the special kid and you get these perks (and we have a list of perks), like you get to choose the TV program at 7 o’clock.  And the next night the other one gets to do it.  It doesn’t matter how old anybody is — they all get the “special kid” treatment so they’re not fighting over a TV show because tonight that one gets to choose.  Of course some of you are nuts and have a television in every kid’s room and I want to pinch your heads off.
Some of the things I don’t want you to do:

Don’t compare one kid to another. “Well your brother/your sister doesn’t ‘blah blah blah’.”  Don’t do that.  “He/she studies; you’re just a bum…”  Don’t do that because they’ll hate each other. 
Try not to take sides.  Try not to take sides when they’re having a little skirmish.  “Well you said…well you did…and you did…and you pushed…”  And say, “Well you know what?  At this point, I don’t care who started it, you’re both finishing it.  That’s it.  If I hear more noise about this, you both don’t go out for the whole weekend.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, the two of you have to finish it.”  It’s the finishing done well that I’m interested in so they have to become a team or they both get screwed on the weekends.
Don’t over-react.  You really shouldn’t discount emotions.
“I hate Johnny.  I hate Mary.”
“Okay, why do you hate them?”
“Because they do ‘such and such’.”
“Well I can understand how you can get an emotion so big you’d say ‘I hate them’, but you can’t take their stuff or bounce them over the head or call them bad names.  When you feel a feeling, you feel the feeling and we can talk about what to do with the feeling, but these are the things you’re not permitted to do with the feeling: you can’t hit them, you can’t take anything and you can’t embarrass them, and you can’t do crap like that.  But if you’re that angry, you’re that angry.  So you can either come to Mom and Dad and talk about why you’re so angry, talk to your brother or sister and tell them you’re angry, we can sit all of us and talk about why each one of us is angry because angry happens.”
You don’t discount the emotion because it’s bigger.  In order to get accepted, it gets bigger.  So you say, “Oh, I can understand why you were angry.  However, bopping them on the head is not the way you’re going to handle angry.  It’s unacceptable.  But, you’re angry, so if that’s what happened, I can understand you being angry.  I would be angry too.”  The minute you say that, the anger level goes down.  The minute you justify the anger, the anger level goes down.
So I could go on for days, but these are some basic tools that you can try and they all require you to have a sense of humor and be calm. Have a sense of humor and be calm because the more you get into it, you exacerbate it.  And definitely do not have parents arguing about it.