Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Love and Jealousy of Siblings

Lately, my two daughters have shown an overabundance of love towards me. They will fight over who gets to sit by me at a restaurant and will choose to ride with me in my car instead of with their father. My 3-year-old is frightened of going anywhere unless she knows that I'm going along. My 6-year-old wants me to play the same games and read the same stories to her as to her sister.

As much as I Iove the affection and attention, I know that their fondness is not about me. It's about oneupmanship. It's about competition. They are naturally seeking to understand how they rate with each other in the estimation of a loved one.

Don't play the game, parents. It's too easy to fall into comparisons of your children or judgments based on their skills or behavior. Be conscientious of their attempts to compete for your attention and find ways to dole it out with fairness and wisdom.

An easy way to create fairness is to require the kids to take turns. One sits by you this time, the next kid gets his turn, and so on.

Create special one-on-one time with each child. It doesn't have to be the same activity, but involves attention with just them. Take one to a coffee shop to play a board game. Take another fishing. Plan reading time with each. Encourage one-on-one interaction through family chores like inviting one along to the car wash or raking up spring leaves together. Allow the kids to take turns choosing their favorite meal for the month and let them help you prepare it.

If one parent is becoming "the favorite," encourage the kids to do things with the other parent, letting them know that it's important to spend time with both of you to learn different things and have different fun. If you're a single parent, promises of one-on-one time are more challenging, but can be remedied with the help of a trusted friend or grandparent. Even if you have an outing with one child once a month — as simple as running errands together and getting an ice cream — it builds their sense of self and their connection to you as a positive influence.

The sibling rivalry factor will be lifelong, but harmless if you avoid comparisons and acknowledge each child's unique qualities and talents.

As for the favorite parent thing, I quickly learned my place on the love meter when we had lunch with Nana the other day. I sat alone on my side of the booth.

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