We recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the International Nanny Association‘s annual conference and we attended a fantastic session presented by Child Development Specialist Sara Sladoje regarding sibling rivalry.
This session was so interesting because Sara shared some truly insightful points that illuminated for us how sibling rivalry begins in early childhood, why it exists, and how we as childcare specialists can use this knowledge to better support and nurture our charges.
Beginning in infancy, siblings have a biological drive to compete for ‘resources’ within the family unit. This biological drive was more necessary during more primitive times and ensured the survival of the fittest when resources were scarce. In modern times, this biological drive to compete for resources is no longer directed towards the basic necessities of survival but is more honed in on obtaining emotional attention, one-on-one time, and genuine connection within the family unit.
From infancy, kids can sense when you as a parent or caretaker, naturally connect more with one of them and it impacts their self-esteem and their perception of self. Though we would never aim to treat siblings differently, they are experiencing life within the family in very specific, personal ways as a result of these subtle differences in connection. To counteract this, Sara recommended carving out space and time for each child to regularly affirm for them, their importance and value within the family.
As a nanny or childcare specialist, you may find yourself naturally getting along better with one sibling, but it is imperative that you recognize this, and go out of your way to invest emotional energy into the other kids. As your charges become more aware of the interpersonal relationships you develop with each of them, you may see some rivalry arise, and often the best fix is to spend the time and energy speaking with each child and understanding what they’re upset about, why they’re upset with their sibling, and how you can help them discover a resolution.
Often this means producing choices for the kids: if everyone is fighting about a specific toy, or who gets the front seat of the car, create options for them.
- Maybe there’s a time limit set with the toy, and you offer a different toy to play with until it’s their turn.
- Perhaps you create a front seat schedule so there’s no confusion over who gets the prized seat.
- If there’s an issue of a shared food item, one great tactic is to have one child split the item in two, and have the other child select which half they’d like to have.
- If one child is just harassing the other, give each child a choice in terms of redirecting their play and their behavior, have them more to separate tasks to create some distance and autonomy. Be sure to encourage each child equally as they play on their own without conflict.
The goal of utilizing these tactics is to teach the kids how to work through these conflicts while respecting one another, and also being affirmed of their equal importance and place in the family unit. These important conflict resolution skills will be vital to the kids’ growth as they navigate more complex social situations with school, friends, etc. In a way, we as humans utilize our siblings as a training ground when it comes to working through social interactions and conflict because siblings are the very first social comparison we experience!
Even as adults our siblings push buttons in us that cause us to regress into the previously held roles from childhood. These complicated, important, confusing, and incredible relationships often outlast the death of parents, new additions to the family, changes in career, even divorce – so arming our charges with the skills to effectively develop these relationships is crucial to their future personal social success, and the determination of these future sibling connections.
For more information about sibling rivalry, we love the book “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Adele Faber + Elaine Mazlish.
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