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Friday, May 6, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

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THE ORIGINS OF SIBLING RIVALRY


By sibling rivalry we mean the antagonism or hostility between brothers and/or sisters which manifests itself in circumstances such as in the common childrens family fights (which begin with a pulling of the siblings hair or with the unwillingness to share a prized toy, and which try the patience of parents all over the world) to much more serious cases such as the permanent enmity between adult siblings. A similar competition exists between siblings in human families. However, here the scarce resources are the TIME, ATTENTION, LOVE and APPROVAL that the parents can give to each of their children. Looking at this situation in very simple terms, if the parents have only a certain limited amount of exclusive (one-on-one) time to give to ALL their children, it is easy to see that if there is only ONE child in that family, ALL of the parents available time will be for the only child; if there are TWO children in the family, each child can have HALF etc. This is the root of the problem. To examine this situation more closely, we can put ourselves in the place of each child in the family as each new sibling is born. When the first child is born, ALL of the parents available time and attention is only for that one child. Because of this, this first child feels rather special, and he or she usually gets to spend at least one year in these privileged circumstances. Nevertheless, even this limited period of time (of only one year) has an enormous impact on that child and his or her later life. It is a common observation that, in most families, it is usually the first-born that has the greatest success in later and adult life. What happens when the second child is born? To begin with, the amount of exclusive time that the parents can give to the first-born is immediately reduced to at least half of what it used to be. The true situation is even worse. A new baby requires enormous amounts of time, effort, and attention. What the first-born feels is that suddenly mom and dad hardly have any time to spend and play with him or her, and when they do, they are usually tired and irritated. Now, a one-year-old child cannot yet reason very well - we must remember that he or she is just beginning to learn to speak. However, even at this young age, the childs capacity for EMOTIONAL feeling is already rather well-developed. What he or she feels is an intense DISLIKE for new situation, and associates this disagreeable situation with the new intruder in the family (that is, with the new baby). To compound the childs frustration, this new situation goes on and on. The first-born is not very happy with this. Remember that, for a one-year-old, one day is a very long time, and a week may seem like an eternity (The effective reality is the one that the individual feels, which is not necessarily the one that is apparent to others). To make matters worse, this is happening just as the first-born is entering one of the most difficult and frustrating life-periods, for both the child and the parents, the so-called terrible twos. At an emotional level, the seeds of the antagonism are already sown. Part of the problem is that the human mind tends to process emotional impulses before it processes conscious thoughts (and unfortunately this is as true for children as for most adults). Almost unconsciously, the older child begins to look for ways to try to get the parents to stop loving the younger one. Later, the first-born will also begin to directly irritate and bother the younger child. When the parents become aware of this, they will reprimand and may punish the older child. However, this doesnt solve the problem. Punishing the older sibling simply makes him or her develop ways to diminish, bother, and irritate the younger one that the parents wont be able to detect (Some readers may believe that this is not possible. However, children can be surprisingly creative. For example, if the younger child is still a baby, the older one can whack or pinch her while she is sleeping and make her start to cry, without either the child or the parents noticing whose hand it was. Later on, the older sibling can secretly damage or lose the younger ones toys or clothing items. An even sneakier tactic is to put the younger childs things in a different place from where he left them. This makes the younger child appear careless and, if found out, the older sibling has the perfect excuse She was just cleaning up younger childs mess!). Meanwhile, how does the younger sibling see this situation? When he or she first arrives at the family home, all appears to be well. There are mom and dad, who take care of him or her and try to satisfy all of his or her needs. But there is also this other someone who, without any provocation, bothers, irritates, and tries to make life impossible for him or her. At first, the younger childs capacity for action is rather limited, and he or she cannot do anything either to defend him or herself, or to attack in return. But as the child begins to grow, he or she will begin developing ways to stop or hinder the elder’s attacks. The easiest is to tell mom or dad He hit me! - He took my toy! - He pulled my hair! This makes the parent scold the older child and stops the attack... for the moment. However, an important part of the problem is that, for children that are still younger than some ten years of age, a difference in ages of even just one year means a tremendous difference in size, strength, dexterity, and mental capacity. The sad truth is that, from the beginning, the younger sibling has very little chance of winning in this conflict. As he or she grows up, this continual losing against the older sibling is a source of great frustration for the younger child (Of course, younger siblings dont always lose. As they grow older, younger brothers or sisters begin to develop all kinds of tactics to block the older siblings attacks and in turn bother and exasperate him or her... - TV-comedy writers and producers seem to find these older-younger sibling conflicts a great source of inspiration, which perpetuates the problem as children will imitate the behaviour of the kid characters that appear in the TV shows they watch). This is one of the reasons why, to attract the parents attention and approval, the younger child will tend to develop abilities that are different from the ones developed by the older one (If he or she tries to develop the same abilities, then he or she will never have something at which he or she is better than the older child). For example, if the older child is good at sports, then the younger one will tend to be good at school-work, and vice-versa. Next year, another new baby arrives in the family, and another round in this game begins. This time it is the two older siblings against the youngest one. Also, this time the parents have even less time and energy to devote to each child... It isnt difficult to figure out why, in many families, it is the youngest sibling who generally has the greatest psychological problems upon reaching adult life. Now, something that should be pointed out quite clearly is that sibling rivalry is NOT the oldest childs fault, nor that of the other children in the family. Also, it is NOT the parents fault either. The truth is that the root causes of this problem are the timeless and universal circumstances shared by ALL human families. As mentioned at the beginning, reading the Bible one can see that this is NOT a new problem. It should also be emphasized that the discussion presented herein is by no means a complete description of this complex problem. It is rather an attempt to point out the most important factors that contribute to this situation. There are many other modifying factors. For example, if the second childs sex is different from that of the first, then this will tend to lessen the development of the rivalry as, from the start, the second child has something special that the first child doesnt have, namely the fact of being a girl or a boy. On the other hand, if both children are of the same sex then the likelihood of the problem arising increases. Also, as is discussed in what follows, the difference in ages between consecutive children can greatly influence the development of this situation. COMPLICATING FACTORS One of the factors that greatly tends to complicate these problems is that these patterns of behavior or schemas are recorded into each childs mind when they are still so young. At this time the mind is still in its formative period, so these schemas become a part of the childs PRE-conscious mind (and this lays the foundations for all kinds of destructive psychological games in later life). The fact that these schemas are pre-conscious means that the child (or adult) is usually not aware of when he or she expresses them, and if he or she should become aware of them, he or she will perceive them as a completely natural way of acting and being. It has to be this way, as it is by means of such pre-conscious structures that each mind builds its conscious thoughts. As the child grows and develops socially, these ready-made schemas will be used within his or her peer group, with his or her friends and schoolmates. And, when the child reaches adult life, he or she will use these same destructive schemas with his or her social or business associates and subordinates, and eventually with his or her spouse and his or her own children. So, the emotional environment existing within the family during each childs first years of life has important delayed effects with respect to his or her behaviour with others in adult life. Even worse, these destructive schemas and effects are passed on from generation to generation. For example, a girl-child who feels hate and fury when her new sibling is born, is likely to feel the same way, as an adult, when her own children are born. Children are emotionally quite perceptive. A child that feels that even his own mother doesnt love him or her will in turn have difficulty in forming loving relationships. A boy-child that feels hated or victimized by his mother can very easily develop a hatred towards most or ALL women, and when reaching adulthood he may try to subconsciously seek revenge from his mother by becoming, say, a rapist or a physical or verbal abuser, specially of those women that in one way or another remind him of his mother (Now, it is NOT that the boy consciously thinks and decides I hate my mother so Im going to become a rapist or an abuser. What actually happens is that he feels an inexplicable but irresistible compulsion to hurt and diminish certain women. These are examples of psychological transference, in which the emotional response caused in the individual by one person is transferred to an apparently unrelated person - the relation between these two persons exists within the individuals subconscious mental structure � that how subconscious mind works). Parents that harbour such subconscious hate and fury may also express these in various forms of child abuse or neglect. It is probable that all the children from such families (in which one or both of the parents subconsciously hate their children, as a result of the sibling rivalry that they, the PARENTS, suffered during THEIR childhood) will also have serious emotional problems (as children AND as adults). Sibling rivalry has another important delayed effect. Even when the problem is serious, its effects may not become clearly apparent until the children reach adolescence. This means that this problem may exist for many years within the family without the parents becoming aware of it. It is only until the childs mind begins to mature, between twelve and twenty years of age, that the hate and fury that have been bottled up inside during so many years begin to manifest as destructive behaviours against him or herself and others. By this time it is much more difficult to find solutions to the problem. Another important factor in the development of this problem is the difference in age between consecutive siblings. This is because one simply CANNOT reason with a child of less than about three years of age. A child this age simply does NOT have either the language or the capacity for logical reasoning. This means that for a child less than three years of age, no matter how hard the parents try to explain the need for him or her to love and care for the new brother or sister, the only thing this older child will understand is his or her frustration and anger with the arrival of this new intruder in the family. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to include a child that is older than three in the preparations for the arrival of the new baby. The parents can build up his or her excitement for this wonderful event, and convince him or her of how useful he or she is going to be to them in helping to care for the newborn. The older child will certainly still feel the big change, but now the parents can talk and reason with him or her, which greatly diminishes the level of stress within the family, the intensity of the resentment felt towards the new baby, and the expression of that resentment in harmful behaviours. Another factor which complicates this problem is when the parents, for whatever reason (work obligations, lack of appropriate social or personal values and priorities) leave their young children alone at home. Without the parents supervision, there is nothing to stop the aggressively of ones against the others, and events can quickly escalate to levels that can provoke resentments that can last a lifetime. As a general rule, children younger than twelve should not be left alone. The TV is most emphatically NOT an adequate substitute for the supervision of a responsible adult. An additional factor that greatly complicates this problem is the occurrence of family traumas or tragedies (the death of one or both of the parents, or their divorce or separation), which leave only one or none of the parents in charge of raising their children. These family traumas may occur because of war, sickness, accidents, and other natural or social disasters. In such cases the parents simply do not have the opportunity to teach their children about how to avoid the problems of sibling rivalry (or to teach them many other bits and pieces of information which are useful and necessary for day-to-day life) and so then, when these children grow up and in turn form their own families, they dont have the necessary knowledge to avoid the development of this rivalry among THEIR children. It may take several generations to overcome the effects of ONE of these family tragedies. In contrast, the most important factors for the development of good sibling relationships (and for the mental health of children in general) are the parents knowledge of basic parenting skills, their desire to apply these knowledge and skills, and that they have the time and opportunity to apply them with their children. It is when the parents knowledge, skills, desire or opportunity are lacking that birth spacing, sibling gender, temperament, and other potentially negative factors become increasingly important.


THE HUMAN MENTAL STRUCTURE What has been discussed so far can also be deduced from some principles on the organization of the human mental structure. These principles or premises are relatively self-evident truths about the human mind that can be useful in deciding which actions may nurture childrens mental health. Some of these principles are the following 1. The most complex structure in the known universe is each human mind. Modern science, even with all its spectacular recent advances, is only just beginning to understand this intricate structure. The human mind is a structure that, with the proper environment and preparation, is capable of discovering the answers to the mysteries of the universe, designing rocket ships to go to the moon, creating beautiful works of art, or solving the multiple problems of day-to-day life - and producing abundance of riches (on the other hand, with an INADEQUATE preparation, it is also quite capable of scheming to bring about misery, pain and destruction, in a small or a large scale). So then, EACH human child IS the most complex structure in the known universe. This should give an idea of the reverence and awe with which parents and educators should look at EACH child. . The human mental structure is primarily a product of the constantly changing environment in which it is evolving. The most important parts of this environment are its informational and emotional aspects. This does not mean that the genetic, biological and physical aspects of the environment are not important. It is just that these last are usually not under the parents control. On the other hand, the parents generally can have considerable influence on the informational and emotional aspects of the childs environment. This principle has at least two corollaries a) All the environments in which all children have developed have at least some similarities, so all human mental structures will also have some similarities (which means that even the most different people will have at least some points in common) and b) No two environments are exactly alike, so no two human mental structures will be exactly alike (and vice-versa, even the most identical people will have some differences). As noted previously, each successive child in the family has less access to his or her parents exclusive one-on-one time. Also, he or she will be influenced by the presence of his or her previous siblings, at their respective stages of mental and physical development. Additionally, the parental influence each successive child receives will reflect the fact that the PARENTS also evolve and change with time. All of these factors contribute to differences in the mental structures of siblings - therefore, it cannot be expected that siblings will have very similar mental structures only because they were raised within the same family environment. . The human mental structure is self-organizing. This is a biological, neurological, and psychological fact. On the one hand, the development of the underlying structures of the mind that allow concepts to be acquired follows a well-defined sequence, with later developmental stages allowing the acquisition of concepts of different kind and generally increasing complexity and abstraction. And then, the development of the mental structure itself is sequential and arbores cent The concepts that are acquired first determine its subsequent development by allowing or not the further acquisition of related concepts. And, environmental factors can accelerate, or delay, or obstruct the development of the underlying structures of the mind and of the conceptual structure itself.


Also, as is well known, human children will imitate social behaviours they observe in others around them. If these behaviours are incorporated at an early enough stage, they will easily be taken as natural by the child as he or she grows up. And then, it is easy to fall into the fallacy that if I feel this is a natural behaviour, and I observe it in others, then it IS the only possible natural behaviour (for this type of social situation) An obvious counterexample question is this Are there ANY human beings that exhibit different behaviour patterns in this type of social situations? If there are, then this means that, NO, this is NOT the only possible natural behaviour pattern, it is only ONE of several or many possible behaviour patterns (for any certain type of social situation) This indicates the importance of the factors present in the early environments, because any later organization will necessarily proceed from these. 4. After a certain short initial period, the most important factor in the environment of any particular individual is that very same individual, which is to say, his or her mental structure. That is, the factors present in the childs early environment are more important than the factors of later environments. This indicates the great importance of the emotional factors present in the family environment in which the child is raised, e.g., love, caring, attention, approval (or their lack), on the eventual adult mental structure of that child. This also indicates the importance of the presence of siblings in that environment, and their emotional attitude towards their new brother or sister. 5. All children are egocentric. This means that, for each particular child the center of the universe is that very same child, and his or her most important goal is his or her own satisfaction. In other words, during the early development of their mental structure, ALL children are INCAPABLE of thinking (and therefore of truly behaving) unselfishly. Erich Fromm, the renowned psychologist, considers that this initial egocentric stage lasts at least through age eight. This doesnt mean that children cannot pretend or imitate unselfish behaviour, which they will do to obtain their parents or caregivers approval. And in fact, it is these early trials at unselfish behaviour that create the bases for true cooperative behaviour later in life. 6. Every child will tend towards self-individuation. This means that each child will tend to develop capabilities that are DIFFERENT from those he or she sees in the persons around him or her, specially those of his or her siblings. WHAT PARENTS CAN DO 1. In the first place, when the family is expecting a new baby, the parents should begin early to talk and to convince their older children as to how important the childrens help is going to be with the caring of their new baby brother or sister. The parents should also discuss the childrens considerable responsibilities as older brothers or sisters. They should mention that these responsibilities will change with the babys age, and that they will continue for the rest of the siblings lives. . The parents should plan to allow sufficient time between the births of each of their children so as to try to avoid having more than one child needing the same kind of care and attention at one time. Also, as was previously mentioned, if the older child is still very young, he or she will not yet have the capacity to understand the parents explanations with respect to the efforts needed for the care of the new baby. A child that is still too young will not be able to understand and respond to the new babys arrival in a reasoned manner, but will tend to respond in a purely emotional negative way. It should be noted that Jewish law permitted an abortion if the mother already had a child that was less than two years old. . Parents should carefully observe their children, and continually explain to the older siblings the necessity that the parents have of their help with the care of the younger ones. 4. Parents should NEVER demonstrate a special preference for one of their children (of course, they certainly can and will HAVE such a liking or preference - the damage only occurs if the childs other siblings become aware of this preference). Giving preferential treatment to one of their children is one of the most TOXIC attitudes that parents can have with respect to their families. This attitude will actively cause the development of rivalry among their children. EVERY child has nagging suspicions that his parents love another one of his brothers or sisters more than they love him. There cannot be any good reason for parents to encourage their childrens feelings of rivalry by confirming such suspicions (See also Sibling Rivalry and the Family Favorite). 5. Another common mistake among parents is when they tend to over-identify themselves with one (or more) of their children and to satisfy that childs every wish or to give that child everything that the parent didnt have as a child. This parental attitude will make it difficult for the child to grow out of his initial self-centered stage. It will also obstruct the development of his or her tendencies toward cooperative behavior. More than 00 years ago the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote


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Do you know a sure way to make an unhappy child? It is to accustom that child to getting everything that he or she wants. Because, as the child grows, so will its demands. Sooner or later the childs wishes will become larger than our capacity to satisfy them, and this unexpected denial will cause him more torment than the lack of that thing he demanded of us. And, from that pain will come hate and loathing.


Both extremes, of too little or of too much satisfaction of their wishes, are harmful to the emotional development of children. This mistake is also frequently committed by parents of an only child, or with the oldest child, (during the time he or she is still an only child) and is also often committed by parents or caregivers who were abused or neglected when THEY were children - They are not really giving their child this extra love and attention, they are really giving THEMSELVES this extra love and attention (so it really is only a misguided form of parental self-love). These parents tend to feel that the only thing that their children need is LOVE. The problem is that children that receive this kind of overabundant love and attention, without sufficient moral and ethical life examples and instruction, tend not to grow out of the childish self-centered stage - they may grow up to be VERY intelligent and creative adults, but they will tend to use their talents ONLY for their OWN gratification - they may also become manipulative and abusive, simply because they have not developed the mental structures to empathize with the suffering and harm they cause on others (See Readers Letters, and also Note , Abuse of Power).


6. Another very toxic attitude that parents have with towards their children, is showing them APPROVAL for harmful or destructive behaviors, such as a lack of respect towards the other parent, or towards any of the childs siblings or any other person.


7. Because of the previously mentioned reasons, parents should not leave their children alone at home, with the older ones caring for the younger ones, if the oldest child is still less than twelve years old.


8. Parents need to plan and carry out frequent family activities with all of their children. During these, parents should try to avoid games and contests in which one of the children wins and the others lose. They should instead look for activities and pastimes in which they ALL win if they cooperate with one another.


. Each childs temperament is a matter of luck. Nature selects it at random, without asking the parents opinion. So then, some children are born with an abrasive temperament, are strong-willed, or may be easily angered or irritated. On the other hand, there are other children that are naturally sweet-tempered, mild-mannered, docile and obedient (The three components of a childs temperament are usually considered to be emotional intensity, activity level, and sociability). Parents or would-be parents have to be prepared for the fact that EACH of their children will come with his or her OWN temperament, and they have to be prepared to rear and educate each one of their children working with THAT particular childs innate temperament. What is important for the development of that child as a true human being is not the childs temperament, but his or her character. Character is the result of the childs innate temperament plus the rearing given by his or her parents.


10. Above all, parents need to spend TIME with EACH ONE of their children. Without asking for their consent, we brought them into this world - We need to take the time to have an active part in the shaping of their minds, to share our life experiences with them, and to become a friend to them (And, no - buying them material things instead of spending time with them will not make you their friend. Also, being their friend does NOT mean you stop being their parent or stop being the source of moral authority within the family). If we do not take this time, we definitely need to ask ourselves this question Just WHAT was our purpose in bringing them into this world?


Note See also Additional reading - Books on Parenting and on Sibling Rivalry. WHAT THE COMMUNITY CAN DO There are several ways in which the community can help reduce the incidence of the many problems brought about by inadequate parenting, including sibling rivalry. The communitys help is specially necessary for those families that have suffered different traumas due to social or natural disasters. The community also has a definite interest in breaking the vicious cycle of ignorance that keeps these problems recurring generation after generation. One way in which communities can help with this is including the previously discussed concepts in elementary and high school study programs, within such courses as Education for Family Life, or Social Studies. This should begin in early grades, with simple and general concepts, advancing towards detailed discussions on causes and consequences for high school students. Sex education is a necessary but certainly not a sufficient preparation for future family life. Because of these same reasons, perhaps these concepts should be included in mandatory counselling sessions or courses for couples applying for marriage licenses. And since not all children are born to married couples, these concepts could also be included in similar counselling sessions or courses for all women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth, possibly as part of pre- or postnatal social or medical assistance. If possible, these courses should be evaluated, with some kind of a (possibly monetary) small reward for successful completion. (For example, the Magna Systems Company distributes a series of instructional videos that could be adapted for such courses. This also means that national or regional social and economic development plans and programs should be re-examined as to whether these include adequate support for the well being of the family. Such programs usually address economic growth, employment, nutrition and/or health. However, if these plans make inadequate or no provisions for long-term support for the well-being of the family (e.g., for time for parents to spend with their children, and for guidance on how to help their children develop into well-adjusted, productive members of the community) then they are, in the long run, worthless. Without adequate support for the family, these programs are worthless because, even if they attain their stated economic, health or nutrition goals, their end result will be families with an appearance of abundance of material possessions, and apparently healthy and well-nourished children. But, if these children have not developed adequate affective bonds to their families and their communities, they will lack an inner vision of a positive purpose in life and become social malcontents that easily fall prey to drugs, gangs, or other self- or socially destructive behaviours - surely not a desirable goal, either for the community or for the individual. However, this depressing situation appears to be occurring with increasing frequency in communities all over the world. This is why each community needs to work on developing and encouraging work and employment systems that allow parents to spend enough time with their children, and also by the development and implementation of effective social work and childcare systems. One should remember that, in the degree in which these problems are not solved, it is us and our descendants, which, will have to live with their consequences. THE TRANSCENDENTAL SOCIAL IMPORTANCE OF SIBLING RIVALRY What has been said so far gives an idea of the importance and consequences of sibling rivalry within each family, and of its negative effects, which may last for several generations. However, sibling rivalry may also have transcendental social consequences, whose pernicious and persistent negative effects have permeated human history and continue to manifest themselves in the present. We begin by postulating that the principal source of all moral evil (i.e., any harm or injury caused to human beings by human beings) is the abuse of power or authority (in contrast to harm caused by natural accident or misfortune, without any persons wilful action; see Note , Abuse of Power). Throughout history, we humans have innately recognized this, and continually lamented and deplored the abuse of power. This being so, WHY does abuse of power continue to manifest itself? Where do people learn to abuse power? Where do they learn that might make right? (Or, perhaps more importantly, where did they NOT learn not to abuse their power?). The place where it is most natural to suppose that we learned (or did not learn) these things is within our early family environment, through the constant and repeated interaction with our parents and our siblings - the family environment is the source of our most enduring patterns of thought and action, and of our moral values (What things do we teach our children to value? What things to admire? What things to love? What things to hate or despise? - Or do we just let them learn these things from the TV or from minimum-wage daycare employees?). So, what does this mean with respect to abuse of power? What this means is that some human beings learn abuse of power directly through unchecked sibling rivalry situations in their early family environment - others will learn it indirectly from these proceeding ones, in the form of abuse they receive from their parents or other persons in positions of authority, and so on. We can see that this is how the pool of abusers in the community is continually replenished. Because of the nature of the human mental structure, to the young child, might IS right. To very young children, whatever means are available to satisfy their wishes are automatically justified. Young children have no sense of abuse of power as evil. If within the family there is no parental moral authority to the contrary, that is what the older siblings will learn, and that is also what the younger siblings will learn. And, when these children grow up and have families of their own, which is what, in turn, THEIR children will learn from them. So then, this pernicious effect of sibling rivalry is also transmitted from generation to generation. And, if someone has no sense of moral wrongness in the abuse of power towards members of his or her own family, it can be expected that that is how they will feel towards the rest of the people in their social environment. What has previously been described can be considered as an inadvertent or accidental mechanism or sequence for the origin of the abusive personality. Then, there can also be the profoundly pathological case of parents, families or social groups, that actively and intentionally teach their children that abuse of power is a desirable moral value, i.e., an acceptable form of resolving conflicts or of imposing ones will on others. If one accepts that abuse of power is the prime source of moral evil, then active teaching of this kind should certainly be considered a crime against humanity. A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH A STRANGER Having read so far, many readers will say All this is very well, but it has nothing to do with me. I try my best to educate my kids and never have had any serious problems with them. They love and help each other. The children of other families? Well, thats somebody elses problem, not mine. These readers seem to forget that THEIR children and THEIR families do not exist alone in the world. Some day, necessarily as they grow and leave into adult life, their children will have to come in contact with the outside world, and will have to interact and coexist with the children of those OTHER families. If those others suffer from serious mental problems because of inadequate family rearing, the results of such contacts can easily be tragic or fatal. A recent example is the case of Ennis Cosby, the son of the famous and wealthy comedian and educator, Bill Cosby. Ennis was an almost perfect son, well educated, nice-mannered and considerate with others. He was about to successfully finish his university studies, and he was the pride and joy of his parents and all his family. But one night in a Los Angeles freeway, he had to stop his car to change a flat tire, and there he had a chance encounter with a stranger, Mikail Markhasev, and in that encounter he lost his life. Why couldnt Markhasev stop his thrust to murder Ennis Cosby? We shall probably never know. However, it is also probable that if Markhasev had had an adequate upbringing and family life, he would have at least had the bases to contain his murderous impulse. So then, when we think about to whom we owe our brotherly love, we necessarily have to begin with those with whom we share our mother, father, family, or upbringing. However, both the Bible and science assure us that all human beings that live upon this earth have descended from one and the same mother. Then, if we really have an interest in the present and future well-being of our true sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, this may be an appropriate moment to begin to think again about what REALLY is important in this life, and on the wisdom and profound meaning of those ancient questions from the Old and New Testaments - Am I my brothers keeper? (Do we have an obligation to attend to the well-being of our brothers and sisters?), and - Who is my neighbour? (Who are those to whom we have a moral duty to consider as our brothers and sisters?).


Can Sibling Rivalry Be Useful?


Conflict among siblings isnt unique to humans; it happens in just about every animal species that raises several young at the same time. Although human children usually dont have to compete with each other for basic food and shelter, other effects of sibling conflict may prove helpful in the long run. For example, learning to cope with disagreements and disputes with ones sibling can help to promote several important skills, such as how to Value another persons perspective Compromise and negotiate Control aggressive impulses As useful as sibling conflict may be in teaching our children these important skills, your family can only tolerate a certain amount of conflict, so it helps to keep it under control. To do so, you need a good understanding of the many factors that affect the frequency and severity of disagreements between brothers and sister. Why Do My Children Fight? Most brothers and sisters experience some degree of jealousy or competition, and this can flare into the squabbles and bickering that we call sibling rivalry. Factors that might influence how often sibling conflict happens and how severe it is include Individual Characteristics Family structure is only part of the picture. Conflict among siblings is also affected by the individual characteristics of the children in the family, such as one or more children who are Fussy Easily bored Tense Easily frustrated. In addition, children who have areas of significant weakness in the development of such skills as language, attention, and social interaction may be more likely to experience friction with their siblings. Family Function Recent research suggests that the way a family functions can affect sibling conflict. This research shows that sibling rivalry is least likely to occur within families in which Parents model how to find solutions to daily problems and disagreements in ways that are respectful, productive, and not aggressive There’s an overall family rule or understanding that physical aggression and name calling is unacceptable Members frequently enjoy activities that are fun for all family members Sibling relationships may be a barometer of your familys level of harmony. Working to improve how smoothly your family functions overall may help to reduce the likelihood of sibling rivalry. Television and Movies Research shows that exposure to violent TV and movie images increase the risk of aggressive behaviour among children. This is especially true for children who are already prone to aggressive behaviour. There has also been research on how TV and films portray sibling relationships. This research indicates that, especially in childrens TV and films, sibling conflict and disrespect have become the norm. With these points in mind, it may be helpful to reduce the amount of violent or aggressive programming that your children watch. If they do watch this type of material, watch it with them and talk about whats being depicted. You can also teach critical viewing skills by helping your children to understand the real-life consequences of violence and to come up with non-violent solutions to the problems presented in a particular program or film. What Can I Do? Once you have a better understanding of sibling rivalry, it may be helpful to develop guidelines about how to react when your children squabble. Try these ideas Don’t react at all. Only get involved in your childrens disputes if theres a danger of physical harm. Even then, encourage your children to resolve the crisis themselves. If you intervene, try to resolve problems with your children, not for them. Separate your children until they are calm and instruct them to return with at least one idea about how their conflict could have been avoided or resolved. Dont put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame for your childrens fights. It takes two to fight - anyone who is involved is partly responsible. If your children frequently squabble over the same items (such as TV or video games) post a schedule showing which child owns that item at what times during the week. If fights between your school-age children are frequent, have weekly family meetings in which you repeat your familys rules about fighting and name-calling and review your familys successes in reducing conflicts.





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