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Siblings

Air Date: 08/03/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.I have a little brother. Well, he's not so little these days; he's taller and bigger than I am, and both of us are a lot older than we used to be. I still remember, however, the times we drove our parents about half crazy. There were the inevitable back-seat arguments as we drove somewhere; he would take the red crayon and not give it back. Worse, he would look me in the eye and put his hand on my side of the middle line. He used to steal the Baby Ruth bars out of my Halloween candy and hide my favorite troll doll. My parents were remarkably unsympathetic about my brother's awful behavior, usually telling me that I was older and should be nice to my little brother. Nice, indeed. They always liked him best, anyway. My son is an only child, so I have no first-hand parenting experience with sibling rivalry. But the parents I know uniformly hate the squabbling and bickering that takes place among their children and struggle to find fair solutions. Kids fight over the front seat in the car, the biggest piece of cake, what sort of pizza to order, and the remote control. They argue over who gets the nicest clothes, the coolest toys, and the most attention. Parents try everything to keep the peace, playing referee, taking away toys, sending the offenders to time out, and just about everything else. And nothing seems to work for very long. Some siblings get along beautifully from the very beginning. Others find that as they grow up and mature, their previously annoying brothers and sisters become wonderful friends and confidantes. Still, if you have more than one child, you're likely to encounter that endearing phenomenon of family life known as sibling rivalry. What can you do to keep the peace? It might help to remember that all children seek connection and belonging. Each of your children wants to feel significant to you and needs to know that he is loved unconditionally. Children are brilliant observers, but very poor interpreters they notice every difference in the way their siblings are treated but often fail to understand that "fair is not always equal and equal is not always fair." Even the most loving parent cannot treat children exactly the same and children inevitably argue about the differences. In a nutshell, sibling rivalry is all about you. Your children want your attention, your love, and your assurance that they are special and they will fight each other to get it. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope. First, avoid looking for blame even if you think you know who started the argument. Put kids in the same boat: in other words, if a fight breaks out, ask both kids to take a cool-off rather than blaming one of them. You can also let kids know that you won't play referee. You can say, "Looks like you disagree about what to watch on TV. Why don't you go out in the back yard and talk about it? Let me know when you have a plan." Sibling rivalry isn't nearly as much fun when kids understand that they can't push you into taking sides. Second, encourage cooperation rather than competition. Don't compare kids. Telling a child "your brother gets good grades why can't you?" isn't helpful and actually invites children to argue and compete. Look for ways to teach your children good problem-solving skills. One way to do this is to have regular family meetings where everyone shares compliments and appreciations, solves problems, and enjoys family time. Your children can participate in making plans about chores, planning meals, riding in the front seat of the car, and any other problems that crop up during your week together. Last but not least, make sure that each child in your family gets one-on-one time with you. It doesn't have to be hours or cost money; even ten minutes a day spent really connecting with each child can strengthen the bond between you and reduce a child's need to compete with her siblings for parental attention. Be sure you take time to appreciate each child's special qualities and contributions. Children who feel a sense of belonging and who are encouraged are far less likely to misbehave. Siblings have fought with each other since the dawn of time. Remember Cain and Abel? With a little thought, you can find ways to reduce the amount of bickering in your home. By the way, my pesky little brother turned out to be a pretty terrific guy. I'm proud to say that he is now one of my best friends even if he does still tease me about the time I ate six donuts for breakfast. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.