One of the challenging parts of parenting is being mindful of the things we say. Our words are our children’s inner voice. And many times we may not even realize the ways in which our words influence their behavior. Remember that comparing our children to each other promotes competition, not cooperation. Here are some phrases that foster sibling rivalry, and what we can say instead.
WHAT WE SAY: Your brother eats his vegetables. Why don’t you?
WHAT THEY HEAR/FEEL: You’re not as good as your brother unless you perform.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: I see you’re both still eating. Does anyone want seconds?Food can easily become a power struggle. Promote the idea that our children know when their bodies are full and avoid comparing, which only increases competition.
WHAT WE SAY: We have to leave the playground now; your brother needs to nap.
WHAT THEY HEAR/FEEL: Your brother is more important than you. They feel resentful.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: It’s time to go home.
Keep it generic and don’t forget to give ample warning that it’s almost time to go – “five more minutes…..three more minutes….one more minute….is there one more thing you would like to do before we leave?” If they need a reason then keep it simple: “ we’ve been here a long time and now it’s time to get home. We can come back another day.”
WHAT WE SAY: Give that toy to your little brother. You need to share.
WHAT THEY HEAR/FEEL: Your brother is incapable and you must sacrifice your happiness for his. They feel angry/resentful.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: It looks like your brother would like a turn. May he have a turn when you are done, please?Remember to empower your younger child to ask and wait for their turn when their sibling is finished with his own.
WHAT WE SAY: Go help your brother.
WHAT THEY HEAR/FEEL: You are more capable and more powerful than your brother. They feel more powerful. They feel like they have the right to intervene without asking the younger child first.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: Your brother looks like he needs help. Would you like to ask him if he wants your help?
While we often try to promote kindness, we sometimes forget to offer younger children respect too. Encouraging them to respect each other’s space from the start will pay off in the long run. It’s important to remember that we have to be the voice for our younger children.
WHAT WE SAY: Why is your brother crying? What did you do?
WHAT THEY HEAR/FEEL: You are no good and always to blame. They feel resentment and learn that the truth doesn’t matter because things will always be their fault. Their siblings may learn to be sneaky and try to get away with things by allowing their older sibling to be the scapegoat.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: You’re brother is feeling so sad. Can you help me figure out what’s going on?
Sometimes our children will have disagreements. Try to keep them in the same boat and focus on finding solutions rather than finding someone to blame.
WHAT WE SAY: Why did you do that? You’re older! You know better! He’s smaller than you!
WHAT THEY HEAR/FEEL: You are not allowed to make mistakes anymore. They feel sad, defeated, and the desire to be a baby again.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD: I see that you _____. You made a mistake.
Remember to always validate and empathize no matter the age of the child. Love and empathy wins every time. Approach every conflict with a heart of working together toward a resolution. Comparisons only foster rivalry.
~ Amy & Ashley
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