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November 10, 2020
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November 10, 2020

Is sibling rivalry worse lately?

By Sophie Barcant, BA (Psyc), B.ED. Trainer, Facilitator, Parenting Coach/Consultant.

Children do not have the maturity to identify and process big, challenging emotions. Even we adults struggle with this. The road rage, corporal punishment, rise in domestic violence and rise in mental health challenges is a clear indication of this.
Thousands of children are feeling lost right now as they muddle on with online school. Some are adapting well but many aren’t.
Many are on their devices playing online games and watching videos while remote school is happening. They struggle to focus on teaching content while alone with partial supervision or in a space with others also doing online school.
Children then are being threatened, shouted at, given ‘licks’, punished and left to their own devices as their supervisors if any, fail to manage them.
The result is a child who is confused by the rejection and their own inability to focus, anger at being treated harshly and fearful of having lost favour and acceptance from primary caregivers.
So, what is the reaction? To lash out at the closest person: siblings if they are present and if not, then parents or caregivers.
We can use this opportunity to teach Emotional Intelligence. In a nutshell Emotional Intelligence is being aware of and naming emotions, then having the ability to control those emotions and then being able to express them in an appropriate way. It is also the ability to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Here are a couple tips on how to teach Emotional Intelligence to children:

Talk and ask questions about feelings, needs, wants and choices.
When parents talk about and describe what everyone in the family feels and needs, siblings become more sensitive and emotionally generous to each other, as well as more likely to understand each other’s point of view.  Emotions get named and understood. Awareness and empathy grow.
Here are a few questions and examples to help them identify and process how they are feeling.

  • “Are you feeling upset, angry, scared, frustrated, worried?”
  • “Do you need ideas on how to deal with those angry feelings?”
  • “Do you need a hug, time alone, time to cry, vent, snuggle, play?”

I still have a handwritten note, written in her invented spelling, from one of my daughters when she was four years old, telling me how she felt when I shouted at her for something. It melted my heart, and I was more mindful from then on how I addressed her.
There is something very powerful about letting others know how their behaviour is making you feel. I have seen it stop hurtful behaviour permanently in an instant.
Showing empathy as in the following examples has a magical way of dissolving highly charged emotions and also models how to be empathetic and aware of how others may be feeling. Validating the feelings of others makes them feel like they matter.

  • “I see you are upset because I said you cannot have screen time now. Yes, it’s hard when we cannot get what we want. I am sure you can think of something fun to do. Too much screen time is not healthy for young developing brains.”
  • “I see you are excited that beaches are open. Yes, it’s wonderful. We will go soon.”
  • “I noticed how satisfied you were when you finished your homework early. Great feeling, eh?”

Explain and model  how to resolve conflicts.

When children (and adults too) are saying mean things to each other, we can literally teach them the sentences to use to express how they are feeling, how the sibling’s behaviour is impacting them, and how to request a way to resolve things differently.
Marshall Rosenberg teaches this very simply in his non-violent communication model.

One of the approaches is to use the ‘I statement’.
It goes like this: “I feel ________ when ___________.  I really need_______. Please will you _________________.”

For example, “I feel disrespected when people borrow my things without asking. Please always ask. I am happy to lend when I and my things are respected.”
“I feel scared when you shout at me. Please speak to me in a nice way.”
“I don’t like it when you tease me, or call me names, I feel ridiculed. Please explain what you need.”
Have you seen children grabbing, saying “gimme that”, or “I want some”? We can simply explain the positive effect polite speech has on others and model the mannerly way of asking. Young children welcome examples of how to say something differently.
The world needs more empathy and it develops when there is awareness of how others are feeling, that is why it is so important to verbalise how one feels or to grasp the impact that specific behaviours have on others.
Let’s tune into the feelings of others especially when they are reacting in hurtful ways. Something is amiss inside. Let’s help them understand what they are feeling and support them in processing it.


Need more ideas on how to cope with sibling rivalry? Book a coaching session with Sophie via e-mail sophiebarcant@gmail.com or call 799-9933 and read more articles on her blog at www:sophiesparentingsupport.com.