Siblings should be taught how to live together

Child Life

November 05, 1995|By Beverly Mills

What should parents do when one child seems to have little affection for his brother? My 8-year-old thinks everything revolves around him. He doesn't treat his 5-year-old brother as he should. When he inflicts pain on his younger brother, he has no remorse. What can we do?

$ -- Linda Lucard, Fort Worth, Texas The first step may be as easy as allowing the older child to vent his anger.

While some anger naturally occurs in every relationship, parents frequently don't want to face the fact that kids need to blow off steam, just as they do. Experts in sibling relations say it's crucial.

"Sometimes this kind of hostility comes from the fact that the angry feelings have never been acknowledged," says Adele Faber, author of "Siblings Without Rivalry" (Avon, $7.95, $9.95 Canada).

Parents can say something like, "Oh boy, I've been thinking it's not easy having a younger brother," Ms. Faber says. "He can be a pain in the neck."

If you open that door, be prepared for a potential flood.

"You may get some really strong statements that are difficult for a parent to hear, such as, 'I'd like to throw him in the garbage,' " Ms. Faber says.

The natural tendency for parents is often to try to talk children out of their anger, but the most helpful tactic is simply to acknowledge and to accept it.

Ms. Faber's response to the child would be: "Sometimes, you really want your brother out of here. Whenever you feel that strongly, come and tell me. Your feelings are important to me."

This is a starting point for healing the resentment.

"Not until the bad things come out can the good things begin," Ms. Faber says.

"You need to capitalize on the times when the kids are getting along," says Edward Christophersen, chief of the behavioral pediatrics section at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and author of "Beyond Discipline: Parenting That Lasts a Lifetime" (Westport, $9.95).

"They also learn that having a brother serves a purpose," he said. "Have you ever tried to play Monopoly by yourself? It's very boring."

Parents may initially have to orchestrate these projects, so be careful to chose cooperative activities.

Baking cookies and throwing a flying disc are good choices, while working on the computer is better suited to solo play, Mr. Christophersen says.

The required investment here is time, but Mr. Christophersen says it's worthwhile considering the alternative.

"Putting two boys together with nothing to do spells f-i-g-h-t," he says.

When fighting does break out, the experts say, it must be stopped, but then parents should encourage the children to negotiate a solution.

Ms. Faber suggests saying: "You two are so angry at each other. Billy, you're upset because and, Tommy, you're angry that I've got confidence you can put your heads together and figure out a solution that is fair to both of you. Let me know what you come up with."

While the quick fix of punishment is tempting, it doesn't teach kids skills they can use later in life.

"We really aren't just trying to get beyond this week," Mr. Christophersen says. "We're trying to raise happy human beings."

Here are some other tips from Child Life readers and the experts:

* Make sure each child has time alone with the parents each week, suggests G.F., a father from Phoenix, Ariz.

* Ms. Faber says you may want to try telling the older boy privately how much the younger one looks up to him. The child may be so shocked -- and flattered -- that his attitude will change.

* Don't try to treat your children equally. "It's not only impossible, it's insulting," Ms. Faber says.

* Conduct periodic family meetings, Ms. Faber suggests. Review family problems and possible solutions.

* Play a game in which each family member writes down three things each likes about the others, Ms. Faber suggests.

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