Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

7th grader Brian arrived at school each day with a scowl on his face. Each day he attempted to push somebody (sometimes several people) and often he tried to start a physical fight with other students. As his Principal, it was my duty to counsel Brian and to suspend him from school on several occasions. I could never quite figure out the reasons for his constant anger. He arrived at school in an angry state, he stayed angry all day, and he went home in an angry state, often starting fights along the way.

His parents (yes, I get to know a lot of parents well!) were nice and caring people who were also concerned about their son’s constant anger, as this had not been a problem with their other two kids, one of whom had earned a perfect 4.00 grade point average all through high school, while the other one had become the star athlete on the football and basketball teams, while garnering several college scholarship offers!

That’s when I realized that Brian’s aggressive and anti-social behaviors were symptoms of a more serious problem. As his two other siblings had been highly successful, Brian did not believe that he could possibly reach the levels of their success. Rather than attempt to be successful (he feared failing and thereby letting his parents down), Brian chose to block out his issues by sniffing inhalants, including gasoline, glue, and air freshener, all of which were readily available in Brian’s house during the 2 hours that he was alone each day after school!

Fortunately, we caught Brian’s problem in time and, through counseling, he was able to wean himself from the deadly inhalants. With his parents’ guidance, he became successful in school, graduated with honors, and now has a successful career in the medical field. Brian was lucky. His parents cared and, although they just assumed that he would be as successful as his siblings, they took the appropriate actions when they realized that they had dropped the ball.

Do your children compare themselves to your other offspring? Yes, they do! Are those comparisons favorable? The answer is most likely yes and no. The keys are as follows:

1) Each child excels in at least one area that is unique to him/her
2) Have each child explore the areas that are of interest to him/her
3) Although your children might have the same interests, do your best to eliminate competition between the two of them. As I have always told my own kids, the competition is the rest of the world, your guys are family and you should always help each other!

As for my own kids, one loves dance, one is heavily into guitar and art, and the other one loves drumming and sports. Interestingly, although my two boys have a great disdain for dancing, the older one has helped the younger one learn the guitar, while the younger one has helped the older one learn to play the drums!

As a result, my daughter has been allowed to excel in dance with zero family competition and both boys have chosen areas in which they also excel all by themselves.

And, even if they have the same interests, the goal should be for the siblings to help each other out and not view the other as competition!

Oh, and of course, don't leave your kids alone for two hours every day after school to explore the land of the nefarious adventures!!

Hang in there and keep up the great work (and joy!!) of raising your children!

Paul W. Reeves

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