Anything can turn into a competition between your kids.
- Who has the tallest french fry.
- Who has the most homework.
- Who brushed their teeth more efficiently.
Nothing is off limits for those two.
And, no matter how hard you try to tell them “it doesn’t matter who has the longest pinky toenail” they aren’t interested in getting second place.
Here are some tips for easing the tension in your home.
How to Parent Competitive Siblings.
Make Time for Connection: Every child wants to be known as a unique individual. They want to have a special connection to each of their caregivers, without having to fight their siblings for this opportunity. Begin by spending at least 10 minutes one-on-one with each child daily. Use this time to strengthen or repair the relationship. Remind your child that this time happens regardless of their behavior, accomplishments, or achievements.
Refuse to Compare: It’s easy to “accidentally” set your kids against each other. Watch for phrases like, “Your sister never had a problem with…” or “Your brother is able to…” Even “see who can get ready the fastest” games can lead to unintended consequences – one kid feels a sense of worth comes from doing things “fast” while the other kid feels like he needs to somehow find a way to “win” in order to get the attention or approval of his parents.
Encourage Individuality: Instead of sending the message, “You are all loved equally,” emphasize the things you love about each unique child. Point out each child’s strengths, the things they add to the family dynamics, their likes and dislikes, the characteristics that make them who they are. You don’t have to go overboard with these comments, a simple, “I’m so thankful that you have a heart for animals. Without you, Spot may never get any exercise!”
Talk about Fairness: Remind your children that “fair” does not mean “equal,” it means “everyone gets what they need.” So, instead of mandating that homework be done alone, you may decide that one child needs help from a parent. Or, instead of forcing everyone to play a sport, you may decide that one child would prefer music lessons. If you get pushback about a decision that doesn’t seem “fair” emphasize the needs rather than the lack of equality.
Dig into Feelings: There are lot of reasons children compete with their siblings – they feel left out, unsure how to get attention, or perceive themselves as “less than” a sibling. Some kids need a safe place to talk about these big feelings without feeling judged or compared to a sibling. Respond with empathy, rather than downplaying their experience. If your child struggles to talk through big feelings, it may be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional.
Setting Boundaries: A little friendly competition is a normal part of childhood. But, if one sibling is struggling, it’s gone too far. Help your children learn the difference between having fun and being mean. Talk about good sportsmanship, how to be a good loser – and a good winner! At first, you may need to stay aware of each sibling’s experience and step in as necessary.
Creating an atmosphere where siblings can support each other, rather than compete, may take some time.
Be patient as you shift the relationships and focus on each child as an individual.
In the meantime, let go of the lectures.
Telling them not to compete, won’t make it stop.
Instead, check your triggers. Take a deep breath.
And decide if you want to participate in the “who can chew their gum the longest” contest.