Lamentation of the Loss of Sibling Rivalry
Nip it in the Bud Before it Starts
by Kim Mansfield
Oh, you lucky parents who get to experience the thrill of sibling rivalry at its peak. You don't know what it's like to miss out on that. When I think of all the hair-pulling contests and yelling matches in which I could have participated with my children, I get misty. I really do. You see, my brother and I had that special kind of relationship: the mad whirl of fury that overwhelmed my exasperated parents and graced our neighbors and friends with hours of delectable gossip fodder. We never dismissed an opportunity to hurt each other, or better yet, to draw spectators from surrounding civilization to witness our belt-worthy battles. Even while driving my brother to his ballet classes or rehearsals, our practiced vocalizing -- OK, screaming -- could be heard above the motors and horns of other road travelers for blocks. So why don't my kids do this? I mean, the thought of real physical violence held little appeal, so my husband and I took RCB when we first found out I was pregnant, and I was really looking forward to the challenge of utilizing all the RCB techniques we'd learned. I just knew that if they could just find something to fight about, we could be there with our calm RCB solution and squash the row, like real parents. But they don't fight; they never have. Perhaps the fault lies in our being a little too prepared with good tools.
Firstly, we've treated Robert, our oldest, with respect since his birth. I remembered hearing in RCB that "if you would't talk to your friends that way, why would you talk to your children that way?" Maybe if we had yelled at him or just talked down to him more often, he would have learned how to deliver the occasional biting reprimand to his younger sister, sure to induce a fiery explosion from our temperamental little angel. But alas, we started using the techniques before we needed them, therefore depriving ourselves of the opportunity to deal with the bullying older sibling. So if you want your older children to bully your younger, for goodness sake, don't forget to humiliate them when they make mistakes. Just make sure they know you are always the one with absolute power, and they will always remember the bigger guy is the one who gets to be the boss.
Now let's talk about dethroning -- you know, when the first child is knocked off the "precious baby" throne. This is an important rite of passage that every older sibling should be familiar with. Amanda's birth and homecoming were so uneventful that I wondered if we would ever have the chance to stretch our RCB muscles. Robert never hit, bit, scratched, took toys away from, or even got angry with his sister. I suppose this one is our fault as well, because we made the mistake of including Robert in all the caring for the baby. He'd known long beforehand that his job was going to be very important, and he actually seemed to thrive on responsibility and even look forward to being the "Big Brother" to his little sister. He never minded turning the storybook pages for me, since my arms were busy holding both of them. In fact, I often spied him reading to her himself, both of them sitting there in diapers, Robert careful to translate the written words into the baby-language they both still spoke so fluently. She would coo appreciatively, Robert would stroke her head gently as he had seen me do and as I had done for him, and I would stand there in the doorway thinking, "Well, golly, when are these kids going to fight over the book?" They never did. They still read to each other, at 13 and 14 years of age. So my advice to all you parents out there who can not stomach seeing your toddlers share things like books and toys is never, under any circumstances, should you include them both in special moments like story time. They should never learn that sharing something special like a book is more fun than reading it alone.
And now we come to my biggest failure as an instigator: comparison. Yes, I'll admit it: I have failed to compare them to each other. I never said that I love them the same, because they are very different people; therefore I love them differently, according to who they are. Kiddoes want to make their own mark on the world, and the best way to squash that idea is to treat them as clones or cattle. If I treated them as though they were two of the same person, they would have tried to best the other in an effort to be loved more. But as it is, they cherish their individualities and even encourage each other in their unique potentials. At this rate, they are never going to find anything to argue about. So be careful to make sure your children are lumped into the same "nice little boys and girls" lot, remember to compare them against each other, and for heaven's sake don't allow them to express themselves or appreciate expression from each other. If you allow them any kind of self-expression, they will never realize that their place is at the bottom rung of the ladder, along with all the other cattle -- uh, kids.
So I suppose what I am trying to say is this: all those familiar reprimands like "Why can't you be good like your brother/sister?", "Children should be seen and not heard", and my favorite, "Don't hit your little sister! (add a little smack to the perpetrator's arm or rump here)" are invaluable if you want to have your kids fighting over everything. You see, I forgot to say these things. I forgot to make them share; I enjoyed sharing and they just knew how to share joyfully. I forgot to make one's needs more important than the other's; we cared for each other together and caring just became habit. I forgot to compare them; I was constantly amazed at their unique ideas and qualities, and they learned to encourage others the same way. Don't misunderstand; our children are good people but they are people and they make mistakes, as do we. However, I feel somewhat shortchanged here: I'd heard parenting was supposed to be a hardcore challenge, that I would be tearing my hair out before they got out of the "terrible two's" and that I would need a valium prescription by the time they reach the teen years -- but it's been relatively peaceful so far. Perhaps if we'd declined the gift of RCB and just fallen back on the old way many of us were raised -- you know, spanking and yelling, reward and punishment -- our kids could have had the same exhilarating sibling rivalry my brother and I did. But I'm afraid we have lost that opportunity forever. They just don't want to fight. And don't assume your children's rivalry is safe either, simply because they may be older and the opposition seems to have taken root too firmly; those techniques we learned in RCB work with all ages. If we aren't careful to keep it going, the day may come when no one will even remember what sibling rivalry is.
*Kim Mansfield is a certified Redirecting Children's Behavior instructor