Monday, November 8, 2010

Sibling Rivalry: Are You Two at It Again?

Guest article By Signe Whitson, LSW

Are You Two At It Again?  Why Sibling Rivalry is Good for Kids

Do your kids love to hate each other?  Do they do their best bickering before 9am?  Or maybe they are best friends and happiest when spending time together.  If your kids are like most siblings, perhaps the answer is (D) All of the above.  Indeed, for some siblings, arguing comes as naturally as breathing.  The upside of all of this anger is that as brothers and sisters work through disagreements, they master all kinds of skills that can serve them well throughout their lifetimes and in most close relationships.  Sibling rivalry at its finest includes lessons in:


I watch my kids negotiate over trading cool new knit hats, latest in hair accessories or even Silly Bandz.  I see them barter over chores, when one is pressed for time.  When picking up the playroom together, I overhear delegation and division of labor. And determining who gets to watch which TV show is the most delicate act of negotiation and compromise I have seen outside of international peace accords.  As siblings navigate daily issues and conflicts, they gain invaluable skills.  I have no doubt that there is direct translation between conflict-resolution skills developed in a kid’s play room and deal-making skills exhibited in a company’s board room.  


It takes a lot to keep your cool consistently when a sibling is always in your space and frequently at odds with your desires.  Brothers and sisters who face this challenge and successfully learn to control their angry urges towards one another become adults who know the fine art of self-control.   Kids who replace aggressive impulses with assertive messages develop emotionally intelligent communication skills.

Listening & Empathy

Do you ever overhear your kids talking long after “lights out?”  At first, you assume they are playing, but then you realize that they are solving the world’s problems (or at least their world’s problems) from the safety of a shared bed and with the support of each other.  Kids who consistently hone their listening skills during those late-night chats benefit from an adolescence worth of empathizing and understanding another person's perspective. 

Whether in times of war or periods of peace, there is one thing sibling relationships have in common: siblings can be each others’ very best teachers.   From lessons about listening and empathy to skills of negotiation and conflict resolution, kids teach each other what is most important in life—the power of unconditional love.


By Signe Whitson, LSW.  She coauthored "The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed." and blogs about ways to handle these types of passive aggressive relationships.  She has developed and delivered numerous training curricula around the country in areas related to child and adolescent mental health.  Her advice is spread throughout the parenting community by a baby clothes boutique in an effort to give back to their customers.


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