Sibling Fighting - Reduce Sibling Rivalry by NOT Keeping Score

Recently, a much-anticipated game of mini-golf with my children soon turned into a disaster. There were smiles all round as we hit off from the first tee but the enjoyment factor was reduced to zero as my children's smiles were replaced by tears, put downs and whining.

The source of all this angst was the scorecard. Or to be more precise competitiveness over the scores. The pressure was on my eldest to make sure that his younger siblings did not turn in a better score than he did. The game was going disastrously for him and it appeared that a thrashing from a younger sister was imminent. And the youngest was reduced to tears as her score didn't quite match her expectations. I felt my blood begin to boil as the family activity disintegrated amongst the tears of a poorly-performing daughter, the put downs from the eldest and the whining recriminations of the middle child who was the butt of the put downs from the disgruntled eldest.

At the half-way point I had a rare a brain-wave. Rather than add my bit to this picture of disharmony by delivering a mini-lecture I decided to remove the source of the anxiety - the score card. "What do you say that we don't score any more?" I announced. "Good idea," they chorused. The relief was evident immediately. With the element of competition removed everyone was able to enjoy the game. Smiles replaced scowls and I swear I even heard them laughing.

While competition maybe good for business and promote better performance in sport it does little to promote harmony in a family. It is okay if there is a level playing field and everyone has a chance of succeeding. Or if it is contained to the sports field and the playground. But when it spills over into other areas of family life it can lead to arguments, lack of cooperation and other uncivil behaviour.

Rivalry is difficult to keep out of families as kids constantly compare themselves to each other even when there is no score to keep. However sometimes parents unwittingly promote competition, particularly when they praise children for their performance rather than their efforts.

When children see that results are important to parents in any area they will often give up if they can't perform as well as a sibling and look for another field where they can gain parental approval. The number of eldest and second-born children in families who excel in different fields is testament to the rivalry that so often takes place between kids. While most parents will claim that their approval of kids is not subject to performance in sport, schoolwork or any other area it is how kids perceive the situation that is most relevant. And kids constantly keep score and know where they rank compared to each other.

The use of sibling comparison is also very divisive. Comments from parents such as "Why don't you keep your bedroom clean like your sister?" or "Your brother does his homework every night. Why can't you?" maybe well-meaning but offering up the standards of one for another to aspire to just drives a wedge between siblings.

As my family game of mini golf showed it is hard to get away from competition. As soon as scores are involved invariably there will be comparisons. While kids must learn that they should be good losers and even better winners they also need to understand that parental approval does not depend on their performance.

It is also important to reinforce to kids that as human beings we all have our special areas of expertise. This point is easier to get across if a child has an obvious area of strength and can become a sore point until a child discovers where his or her talents lie.

Back to the family game of mini-golf. Shouldn't the kids be able to play against each other and cope with winning and losing, some performing better than others? Ideally yes, but it can be a great deal less stressful for everyone to remove the concept of competing and just have a bit of fun. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to see how they measure up - they do it every time they bring home a school report card - without adding another one.

In future I think I'll stick to something safe like beach cricket. Then again they keep scores in that, don't they?

Michael Grose is The Parent Coach. For seventeen years he has been helping parents deal with the rigours of raising kids and survive!! For information about Michael's Parent Coaching programs or just some fine advice and ideas to help you raise confident kids and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au

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