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Sibling Harmony Versus Rivalry
siblings, ages three and five are bickering over the toys. The parent admonishes
the younger child, “You are almost four, now share.” The older child next
hits the younger child and the parent shouts, “Don’t hit… you have to love
your little sister/brother.” The stage is set for the parent to develop a
rivalry between the children with the toys viewed as a valuable and limited
resource. What is sought though, is sibling harmony, not rivalry.
go through developmental stages where at one stage they are almost incapable of
sharing, to the next stage, when they finally develop an ability to share. In
developmental terms these stages are described as parallel play and cooperative
play is most common in two to three year olds. The main feature of parallel play
is that the child tends to play alone, even though the child may be with other
children. For instance, give a two to three year old a ball and they will
happily roll it around by themselves but will likely be unable to enjoy rolling
it back and forth with another child.
play comes around four years of age and is usually well developed in the five
year old child. Give these children a ball and they can happily roll it between
themselves and take turns using it.
pre-school siblings who are close in age may find themselves in conflict. When
at play, the younger will have difficulty sharing and because of this the elder
may become upset. The issue isn’t love or rivalry though. The issue is one
where each child is at a different developmental level. Placing the problem into
a context of sibling rivalry only creates a problem where it doesn’t have to
solution is to explain to the older child that the younger hasn’t yet learned
to share. The older child can be commended for having learned to share and can
also be commended for having patience with the younger sibling until the skill
of sharing has been learned. Helping the elder sibling place the issue in
developmental terms helps release bad feelings the older child may have been
harbouring. Their sibling is no longer seen as bad, just younger.
Further, the older sibling can be encouraged to share their toys with their
younger sibling to help teach or role model how to share. Now, instead of
developing sibling rivalry, the parent encourages cooperation and understanding
in the older sibling, thus helping to develop empathy and caring.
for the younger child, this child can be encouraged by the parent to share and
take turns with the toys. Depending on the age of the younger child, it may be
necessary for the parent to take the toy away and give it to the older child to
have a turn. It is important that the parent take this action and not the older
child. The parent has legitimate authority to make the decision whereas the
older child does not. Further, in taking the toy from the younger, the parent
should tell the child, “Time to share… It’s your brother’s or sister’s
turn.” Thus, play or use of the
toy is a parental decision and not something the younger child can hold against
the older child.
both children grow and develop, both will achieve cooperative play. Because the
parent will have encouraged empathy and cooperation in the older child, both may
now come to share well between themselves without parental intervention. The
children’s relationship will remain intact. This is sibling harmony and the
way to a lifelong mutually supportive sibling relationship.
your children love each other… Now just teach them how to get along.
Understanding developmental differences is the first step towards sibling
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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