How to Handle It When Siblings Compare and Compete

 

What This Is Like from a Parent’s Perspective

 

You try so hard to treat your kids equally. You buy them the same things and give them the same portion sizes.

But they still insist that things “aren’t fair” …

And they each constantly want to be the first to do something or have more than their sibling.

They constantly check to see what their sibling has before they determine whether they’re happy.

And you’re tired of the competition and comparison, which inevitably leads to bickering and fighting… But speaking to them logically doesn’t work, and you don’t know what else to do make it stop.

 

What This Is Like From a Child’s Perspective

 

All human beings want to know they matter… and children’s need for significance is instinctive.

They don’t realize that they are still important even if they’re NOT first, or if they get LESS than their brother or sister.

So they whine and complain when their sibling gets more of something.

And they try to “prove” their value by being first or getting more.

Especially when they’re already feeling bad about themselves, they don’t want to “lose out” to their brother or sister. So they will focus on getting what they want, at any cost.

 

How It Usually Goes When

Kids Compare & Compete with Each Other

 

Scenario:

Sonya’s mom asks her to get off of her ipad. Immediately Sonya whines and complains that Todd always gets more screen time. Todd denies that he gets more time and the arguing begins.

 

Sonya: You do get more screen time! Mom always gives you more.

Mom: I do not. You and Todd get the same amount of time.

Todd: Yeah! I don’t get more…

Sonya: Last week he had extra screen time on Friday night.

Mom: That’s because you had a friend over and were playing.

Sonya: But that’s more!

Todd: Well it’s not my fault you had a friend over… And you got more time when we were at the beach last week.

Sonya: No I didn’t! I stopped when you did! You’re so dumb!

Todd (whines): Mom! Sonya called me dumb!

Mom: Sonya, stop it!

Sonya: See, you’re always taking his side… It’s so unfair.

Sonya and Todd continue to bicker and argue, but now Mom has joined in as well. 

 

How It Could Go Instead When

Kids Compare & Compete with Each Other

 

Scenario:

Sonya’s mom asks her to get off of her ipad. Immediately Sonya whines and complains that Todd always gets more screen time. Todd denies that he gets more time and the arguing begins.

Mom: Todd. Sonya.

The kids continue arguing and ignore her.

Mom: You each want to heard really badly. I’ll wait until I can hear you both. (She sits down.)

 

CALM

Sonya and Todd’s bickering are frustrating their mom, but she knows that trying to resolve the situation while they’re both in Yuck will be exhausting and ineffective.

Instead, she stays calm and lets them release their Yuck. 

 

The kids continue arguing and ignore her. Mom waits. After a little while, kids stop arguing as they finally notice their mom sitting there. 

Mom: Sonya, you were upset that I asked you to get off of the iPad.

Sonya: Yeah, especially when you let Todd have more time than you let me have!

Todd: No she doesn’t!!

Mom: I know that this is important to each of you. I want to listen. I’ll wait. (She continues sitting, knowing her kids can’t really hear her, literally or emotionally.)

Sonya and Todd argue again, but not for as long this time.

Mom (repeats): Sonya, you were upset that I asked you to get off of the iPad.

 

CONNECT

Sonya’s mom knows that Sonya will continue to compare herself to Todd as long as she’s in Yuck. Instead of trying to prove everything is “fair,” she focuses on what Sonya needs. 

Sonya’s mom focuses on what’s going on for Sonya so she can get out of the primitive, competitive part of her brain. 

 

 

Sonya: Yes.

Mom: Can you tell me what you want?

Sonya: As much time as Todd has!

Mom: OK, let’s make this about YOU, not Todd. What would you want if Todd weren’t around?

Sonya: I’d want more time.

Mom: For what?

Sonya: I just wanted to finish the puzzle that I was working on.

Mom: So I interrupted you while you were working on something?

Sonya: Yes.

Mom: OK, let’s work on a solution for that. I understand that can be upsetting. 

Sonya: OK.

Mom: Remember when we used to talk about choosing your ending point BEFORE you started playing? Was that better?

Sonya: Yeah.

Mom: OK, let’s do that again.

Sonya: But what if Todd gets more time still?

Mom: Sonya, when I’m with you I’m going to focus on YOU. If you want more time on your ipad, let’s talk about that. And Todd, you focus on what you need, OK? You two are different people and will get what you each need.

CORRECT

While Sonya’s mom does not want her kids to bicker, she focuses on the underlying problem — their need to know that they matter. 

​She focuses on being firm while offering the kids the tools they need to meet her expectations.  

 

Sonya: OK.

Todd: Fine.

 

 

The Foundation That Is Required for This to Work

 

Though Sonya and Todd’s mom used the Calm, Connect, Correct strategy, proactive deposits will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If you want to give your child tools to be successful (so they can do what you ask), remember: 

 

Depositing into CALM

You will only be able to stay calm when

a.) your own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are met (otherwise you won’t have a reserve to draw from and you’ll immediately go into Yuck)

b.) you don’t have the expectation that your children will have the same priorities that you do

When you make sure your own needs are met and you set realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, you are more likely to be able to stay calm. 

 

Depositing into CONNECT

You will be able to connect if

a.) you respect that ALL behavior has a reason and

b.) you understand those reasons (in a case like this, that when kids are bickering, they don’t need to know that things are “fair”… they need to know that they matter)

When you become comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, you will be able to connect more effectively. 

 

Depositing into CORRECT

You will be able to correct behavior by offering a tool if

a.) You have demonstrated consistently in the past that you mean what you say when you set a boundary like “I will not engage until you stop arguing.”

b.) You have made enough deposits into your kids’ emotional needs that setting a boundary doesn’t put them immediately into Yuck.

When you demonstrate that you mean what you say and when you make deposits into your kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, you  will be able to correct behavior more effectively.