Angry Brothers and Sisters

One Way I Made a Small Dent in My Children’s Sibling Rivalries.

My biological son, S, had a lot of brothers and sisters. Two older stepsiblings, a younger sister with health problems and an even younger adopted brother. He had lots of reasons to feel crowded and frustrated when he was young.

When S was three years old and I was very busy coping with his sister’s needs I tried to set up space for him to let me know how he was doing with all the attention that she was getting. A sturdy rag doll I called “Pretend Elizabeth” helped.

S was and still is a kind person who tends to withdraw and get moody when upset but when I explained about the toy and handed him “Pretend Elizabeth” it immediately went flying across the room. I would retrieve the doll and in seconds it would end up soaring to new heights and distances. In times of stress it became a popular and helpful game that gave S some chance to express how things had been going for him.

When S’s adopted brother, H, arrived S. was older and dolls were no longer useful. I decided to try and listen whenever S complained about H as much as I could. I never had to set up the opportunity to do so as S almost always had something to say about his brother. H had unlimited complaints about S as well.

This phenomenon was at times true for all of my children. I was cautiously optimistic that remembering to listen to their seemingly endless complaints would reduce the times that they shared their upsets with each other. While listening I would stay relatively calm and impartial almost pretending to agree with their grievances.

I think they appreciated my efforts to offer a sounding board to their partially legitimate concerns. Sometimes when they were finished we would strategize things that might help resolve the difficulties they were trying to sort through.

Although I did many things to help everyone “get along” (spending time alone with each one, mediating disagreements, asking for cooperation when needed, etc.) I think the time I spent listening to them made a difference.