If there is more than one child in the family, the parents always hope that their children will be friends as adults. Parents want their children to be supportive of each other, and to remain so through life. They know that adults with supportive siblings have an easier time of getting through the tough stuff that life throws at them. What can parents do during the preschool years that increases the chances of this happening? By observing what has worked, and not worked, in the families we have known over long periods of time.
Each family is different. Each family is molded from their parents’ cultures, expectations, and experiences. Each member of the family has their individual temperament, which also creates the window through which they view and feel everyday happenings. Just to make things more complicated, individuals vary daily depending on their health, amount of sleep they have had, and what and when they have last eaten.
It is almost natural to expect the oldest child to help look after his younger siblings. This works well in many ways, but there are points in which it breaks down. The child who has too much responsibility thrust upon him will resent his siblings and his siblings will come to resent him as well. Another case where break-downs happen is when the parent expects the oldest to manage the younger children, but doesn’t accept any of that child’s observations or input on rules for the younger ones. This leaves the older one without authority, which the younger ones quickly exploit. This leads to both resentment and a lack of respect.
A different road some parents attempt is to celebrate each child’s uniqueness, while keeping them as separate as possible so they neither fight nor argue. If children do not have enough interaction growing up, they will not have it as adults. Controlled discord among siblings teaches them how to work out differences.
Uncontrolled discord, fighting, and arguing is completely different. When a parent consistently leaves their children “to work it out among themselves,” the biggest and strongest is given a license to bully, while the younger and smaller is left to find subversive ways to even the score.
You can find the right balance for your family by careful observation and continual monitoring. Do a bit of listening to your children interact when they don’t know you are listening. Understand that fights and arguments have two sides and often you will not know the real beginning. Spend one-on-one time with each child because it creates a space in which you get to know them better. Interact with your children through games and play so that you can model good interactive behavior. And remember to model friendly, healthy interactions with your own siblings whenever possible.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.