Synergistic Parenting

Sibling rivalry and team work

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Sibling rivalry is the age-old conflict between brothers and sisters that may be mild taunting or physical conflict. To some degree this is a normal part of each child finding their place within the family as they grow and develop. The energies siblings use in conflict can be channeled into more constructive activities and work for the sake of the family, so that siblings do team work for the family and join a parent for team work as a family.

A major result of developing team work is you create interdependence in the child. Elsewhere I emphasize our need as parents to develop each child’s independence, but we parents must also develop interdependence so that our child will feel an effective and productive team member in school, sports, and work life.

Part of developing interdependence and team work is learning and encouraging each child’s individual interests and abilities. A couple watched selected TV programs with their young daughter, and one of those programs was a mystery for children. Soon their daughter began to tell her parents who the villain was early in the program. After several weeks they were amazed that she was right every time, and asked her how she knew. Their daughter proudly showed them the clues she discovered the next time they watched. They praised her insight.

Team work in the neighborhood
Very young children begin to learn team work when they play with other children in cooperative play, such as building with blocks or Legos. Some children may want it their way, and may need to be carefully watched and guided to cooperate with other children.

An important place where children learn interdependence is in athletics and music programs. If your religious group has choirs for very young children, these teach your child valuable lessons, even if you feel your child may not be musically gifted.

Neighborhood organizations may have athletic programs for younger children, and these may be useful, depending on how coaches act. Coaches need to be watched, for some become over competitive between team members or may teach things you don’t want your child to learn. Most coaches are fellow parents who are effective role models for children, help each one develop skills, and teach children the value of working together as a team. And we may help parents learn to cheer for the team as much as push their own child.

School athletics and music programs can be very useful in teaching your child to develop their own uniqueness while learning interdependence. Secondary school bands, chorus, athletics, drama, and other activities may lead your child to blossom as they develop skills. They learn to develop their own selves as they learn how to work effectively with others. They learn team work and constructive competition.

Team work at home
In earlier generations children learned team work in many tasks each day such as washing dishes. Often these are now done by machines. Use your imagination to create tasks around the house and yard that are best done by two or three people, then have your children work together to complete those assignments. For some you as parent can work with them.

Many of these suggestions require more time — sometimes a lot more time — than doing the job yourself. There may be times when parents must do these jobs alone to get them done quickly. Taking that extra time to work together offers many benefits and may be the best of times.

If you prize a well kept yard, that provides many opportunities for children of all ages to work together and join you to maintain the yard and improve it. You and children can select what to plant, talking with them about factors that guide your decision. They can work with you in planting, thinning, and caring for your yard or for indoors plants.

If you do maintenance on your car, you can invite children to help you with simpler maintenance and repair work.

A hobby that a parent enjoys can with some creativity be made into a team effort with children. Running, biking, working out, and other activities can involve the children in ways that improve everyone's conditioning.

Preparing food provides one of the best opportunities to learn and enjoy team work in the family. Use your imagination to think of ways your children can work together to prepare meals. It could be as simple as tearing greens and mixing with cherry tomatoes, because they need no knives. Enjoy mixing ingredients in a large bowl, then serve plates. The only problem with children helping prepare the meal is it takes more time, because you as a parent must coach and guide and help children — and answer many questions. But this develops their depending on each other to make the job simpler and quicker from getting ingredients to good looking dishes on the family table.

Kitchen work is also an opportunity to learn that all genders can work in all places. Remarks by your children about boys cooking is a grand chance to talk about changes in our society and in families and resulting advantages. It may also be a time for us to reflect that until recently women worked as much as men on family farms.

More complicated meal preparation may be making cookies or other desserts. What a difference between the parent who chases the children out of the kitchen, saying I can do it better and faster, and the parent who takes the time to teach children skills. If you work with your children, then tasting the result can become a really grand moment of mutual congratulations.

One of the least pleasant tasks is cleaning house, but parents can teach children, starting young, to do part of this work. One result may be greater pride in the appearance of the house. We parents need to be careful what we ask children to do, since some of the tasks require greater skill or strength and some include dangers. But in all of these we can talk with our children about skills, strengths, and dangers.

Holidays offer possibilities to work as a family in planning, preparation, and in the enjoyment of the holiday. Halloween and Christmas offer many decorating and party possibilities for children working together and with parents. A community holiday or special event can be used to develop family interdependence. Our neighborhood has a "hairy man festival" that is based on a legend from frontier times; what festivals does your community have? What about a block party? National and religious festivals offer more times when families can create and develop family rituals that depend on team work.

Picnics and vacations are often more enjoyable as we use teamwork among children to plan and work through to an enjoyable event. Picnics can be a back yard few hours to a day at a park. Many families have found camping a family building experience. It offers many alternatives from the most rugged to home like comforts in self propelled recreation vehicles. Many state and national parks help family members explore nature and history while camping builds family cooperation and strength.

The individual in the family
Sibling rivalry can be reduced and redirected, but siblings will always compete for the attention and affection of parents, and to secure their own comfortable living space in the family. Hopefully you understand how important it is for each child to find their own comfortable niche, and to develop their own styles and personalities. In our planning we can develop projects that foster team work by brothers and sisters so that each contributes to a whole that is far better than what any one can do alone. Games can develop cooperation between siblings. This requires more time, but it pays off in countless benefits for the children, and should reduce the noisy, normal verbal conflict and rough-housing among brothers and sisters.

Copyright © 2002, 2007 John F. Yeaman