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"It's not fair..."

Claire Winter Claire Winter | 14:26 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

I am sure most parents have heard this refrain more than once, in the last 24 hours. If you have more than one child, it is likely that they will suffer from some kind of rivalry with their siblings, particularly if the children are close in age, one child has a particular talent or if one has a learning or physical disability. 

Being the eldest of three children, means that I am no stranger to sibling rivalry. I felt a strong sense of responsibility in my family and I often wanted to be in charge of my siblings (which they didn’t really appreciate). I also did not view the birth of my first sister very kindly - there is only eighteen months between us - and when she was a few days old, I used her head as a cushion. When I was ‘helping’ change her nappy, I jabbed a pin into her bottom. 

Two young girls in an argument @ Igor Dutina - Fotolia

Whilst I am slightly concerned that I sound like a sociopath in the making, parenting experts say that this kind of emotion is natural, in children who feel threatened by the birth of a sibling. What is key is how we, as parents, handle the behaviour.  Most children react to the arrival of a new baby brother or sister in their lives. The BBC has some good tips for dealing with toddlers and the birth of a new baby. 

Advice from the Family and Parenting Institute is not to compare your children, I am sure many of us still cringe at the parental comparisons that were made about us, when we were young. Instead, they suggest setting each individual child goals and expectations that only relate to them. 

Also, don’t suppress their anger or resentment - allow them to feel the emotion. Discuss it and try and understand their point of view, but explain that they shouldn’t express it through violence or cruelty. 

Try and avoid situations that promote guilt and lastly, wherever possible, let them work out their differences amongst themselves, whilst at the same time be aware that you may have to intervene, if the situation gets out of hand. This will probably only work with older children, with younger ones, you will have to intervene and teach them to problem solve. Try and create a win-win situation, where both children gain something positive. 

At the moment in our household, we are dealing with two three and a half year olds, who say “it’s mine…” a lot and an eight year old who often justifiably says “it’s not fair...” a lot. I often ask the eldest one to share her toys or let her younger sisters have something, to keep the peace.  A family friend once told me a great story about getting a play pen when her second child was born, she used to put her toddler in the pen, so she could draw in peace, while the baby used to crawl around the rest of the room!

I think my twins are clamouring for more time, attention and space. If your children share a room, make sure they have a toy box where they can keep their special things, all children need to express their individuality. We try to maintain their separate identities by encouraging them to wear different clothes and to have individual interests.

We also try and balance out the attention they get, by giving each child some special time with each parent, but that can also be difficult. There are only so many hours in the week and we, as parents, also want time for ourselves. 

All we can do is our best and sometimes, it is letting them decide who gets the pink spoon - this really is a frequent cause for disagreement in our house!

Fighting and arguing is inevitable in all families. Let’s not forget though, that there are some positives that can be taken out of the household warzone. Our children are learning some great life skills - negotiation, sharing, and conflict resolution - all areas of expertise that we need, to become successful adults.

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Listen to the BBC Woman’s Hour debate on sibling rivalry.


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