Nancy's Columns

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Brothers and Sisters

Under topic: siblings

In my discussions with children they often mention that a major problem in their lives is getting along with brothers and sisters. Their parents also state that lack of family harmony is often a source of great conflict and unhappiness.

The interaction between members of the family is the most significant contribution to the formation of the child's personality.

The relationship between the parents becomes the basis of the atmosphere.

According to Adlerian Psychology, the atmosphere can be: competitive or cooperative, dominating or submissive, conforming or creative, humiliating or friendly, based on mutual respect or smothering, and orderly or chaotic. Parents need to be aware of the atmosphere they are creating in the home because the children are modeling their parents' behavior. More important than the type of interaction is how the child feels about it.

Edith Dewey in her book, "Basic Applications of Adlerian Psychology", suggests that parents may encourage competition between siblings in an effort to get children to work harder and achieve hoped-for success. Even if they refrain from direct comparisons, they may unconsciously encourage "covert" or "qualitative" competition in which one child avoids active participation in an area where another seems to do well. Thus, children who are close in age tend to "divide" the arena in which they operate.

If the first child is successful in academic skills, the second tends to try something else--he may become the athlete "social" one.

Members of a family need to accept each other as they are and to be positive in their interactions with each other.

Whenever have an "underachiever", we usually find a high achieving sibling next older or younger in the family constellation.

The parents may not have caused the competition, but they usually contribute to it unwittingly.

Dewey goes on to comment that parents, and also teachers, are often unaware of how their actions fortify the child's interpretation of his role in the family or community.

The "responsible" child is given more responsibility.

The "good" child often shows up the "bad" one by tattling, emphasizing contrasts. Adults often fall for it.

The "baby" has everything done for him.

Parents tend to label the children, and children then cast themselves in these roles: "real boy", "tomboy", "sissy", "shy", "tattler" and so on.

There are four basic ingredients to building positive relationships in a family. They are: mutual respect, taking time for fun, encouragement and communicating love.

Members of a family need to accept each other as they are and to be positive in their interactions with each other.

The family should be the one place where you can be yourself.

It is the place where members can go and be reinforced in order to face the problems outside with renewed energy.

There are some general guidelines which help to bring about harmony between brothers and sisters. They are: ignore tattling, and do not become involved in their arguments.

Most arguments among children occur in the parents' presence for the purpose of gaining the parents' attention. Parents treat children with more respect when they allow them to handle the problem themselves without parental interference. Most parents, however, become involved in playing detective.

Fault-finding only increases rivalry among children. If their arguments are disturbing to the parents, the children should be sent somewhere else until they settle the argument.

The parents can express confidence in the children's ability to solve their problem.

The kind of entertainment parents bring into the home can have a negative affect on family harmony. Many TV programs and in particular Cable TV programs introduce violence, hate, greed, unsavory life styles, and in general, all of the things parents do not want for their children.

Children are modeling their behavior after the adults in their lives. This includes the characters they see on TV.

All adults, but parents especially, have the responsibility to be positive models for their children. There cannot be a double standard. A "do as I say, not as I do" attitude will not bring about harmony in the home.

First published in 1989