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Episode 23

Is it possible to have a home without sibling rivalry?

March 21, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's episode we're going to cover sibling conflict or more commonly heard of like sibling rivalry and we're going to talk about why it doesn't have to be part of your family. It actually doesn't need to be, the sibling rivalry doesn't need to be such a big part of it. We're going to show you where it comes from and how-- Some specific steps to resolve sibling conflict in your home, to where they see each other as assets rather than deficits.

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 23 of The Art of Raising Humans podcasts. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I'm Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we're going to hit a subject that many people come to us for help and it is sibling conflict. So, if you have more than one kid, I’ve bet you've experienced this and I bet if you were one of other kids as a kid, you've experienced this too. So, we want to talk about how to make having siblings a positive thing, because many times I think a lot of kids, I see when it's not handled well, they wish they were only children and they'd be like “man, I wish I did not have another brother or sister”, because it just seems like there's constant sibling rivalry happen and I hear too often from parents, Sara, that they just think that has to happen, that sibling rivalry has to be a thing, you know? And so, then my question always to them is, what are they rivals of? Like, why do they have to be rivals? What are they fighting for?

[Sara]: Yeah, I mean, I would say I hear similar where, well, you know, every “you're always gonna hate your brother. You're always gonna hate your sister”. There's jokes about that, right? People like “oh, sisters, you know?”.

[Sara]: But going back to you said what are they rivals of, their rivals of love and affection from their parents and their place in the world.

[Sara]: I mean, it's “this place, my--” “What's my place in this family?”, but that really does spread out in life to, “what is my place at work?”

[Sara]: Someday “what is my place in this world?”

[Kyle]: Well, and I really want to emphasize that, because I really think it's important, that This idea that if the kids are rivals, it means they're believing something that they are fighting for, they're against each other, they're not seeing-- So, I’m just emphasizing it because I think too often, a lot of parents just believe that's how it has to be and I just-- Sara and I just want to let you know, that maybe I thought it had to be that way too and what I mean by that, I think I actually thought that, Sara, even when we thought about having kids and we held off for about 6 years before we had a child and part of that, was due to education and getting out of debt and things like that we wanted to do, but part of it was, I felt like I was going to be in competition for your time and I thought “man, if we get a kid in here, I’m going to-- I love Sara! She's amazing! I get to spend so much time, we have so much freedom to do things and now this kid's gonna be like, taking all her time away” and it was a lot of growing up I had to do, because I think I had that mindset. That if we add another human into this family, I’m now in competition with that kid for time with you.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think the big picture is we-- I can look at life and go “there's a limited amount of--” whatever, whatever resource it is, love, attention, time, my place in this world. There's only so many spots to fill up and I have got to fight for my fair share and that is a way to look at life and there are lots of people, lots of messages out there saying “fight for it! You've got to go take what you can take and get stuff!”

[Kyle]: Yeah, dog eat dog world, yeah.
[Sara]: Yeah, and you see that down in children, in relationships and going on into the workplace, because that's how-- That's the message they received and that's the way they're approaching life, but does it have to be that way?

[Sara]: Maybe there is plenty.

[Sara]: Maybe there's enough, maybe it can be you and me, not you or me.

[Kyle]: I like that. Well, let's-- I want to come back more to that, but first I want to say, I want to ask, what is--? When I was taking the notes and you asked a question about this is, what are some positive aspects of having a sibling? And what are some negative aspects of having a sibling? So, do you want to hit positive first?

[Sara]: [Laughter] Yeah, I think.

[Kyle]: What are some strengths about having siblings?

[Sara]: And you do the negatives.

[Kyle]: I’ll do the negatives.

[Sara]: The positives. Well, you get someone to practice with.

[Kyle]: Yes, a lot of practice.

[Sara]: Consider you're going to have a lot of conflict with friends and at school, with colleagues, in relationships. There's always conflict, it's a part of relationship, it's not something you're supposed to avoid or never have. “A good relationship never has conflict”, that's not true, we're individuals, we're gonna-- Sometimes we're not gonna see things the same way and that's okay. How do I navigate that?

[Sara]: And how can I see this--? Going back to what I said before, but how can I see a world where many people can be and that can go well and we can be for each other? And siblings give us the opportunity to practice that, because we need a lot of practice.

[Sara]: And it gives us the opportunity to practice those skills.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, in that scenario, you're saying having a sibling is an asset, right?

[Kyle]: Okay. So, I’ll talk about how having a sibling can be a deficit, right? So, I see this a lot in practice, where things aren't handled well. Conflict, you know, that they go from school to home and there's even more conflict at home than there is at school and it seems like because there has not been any guidance on how to deal with that conflict, that the kid almost resents having a sibling and that they are practicing skills, but they're not healthy ones, you know? They're learning how to take things from them when they're not looking, they're learning how better to try to get the other sibling in trouble, so the other one can look like the good kid and the other one look like the bad kid, right? And so, there's a lot of unhealthy habits being formed, a lot of skills that are maladaptive skills to getting through life and when they're at home and that's not being helped, then having one sibling, two, three, four, it doesn’t matter how many, you're getting a lot of practice in doing an unhealthy habit or a maladaptive skill, right?

[Sara]: Yeah, and I think it's hard, I think even we as grown-ups. We went through a whole class on conflict resolution, an entire semester devoted to conflict resolution and it was by far one of the most valuable classes I’ve ever taken and I learned so much in that class and I think it's something-- It's not in your everyday part of your education, not everyone learns that and so, there's a lot of us-- I didn't know as much as I know now and we just don't know, we have different ways, we either back down from it or we run at it full force or we have different ways that we're constantly trying to manage it and without the skills, you're just-- You're doing the best you know how and our kids are doing the best they know how and the parents are doing the best they know how and if you don't have the tools, you don't have the tools.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, going back to what you were saying, what causes the sibling conflict? I mean, there's a lot of different things, right? A lot of things, so we're not going to delve into every possibility. The one I want to focus right now is this idea of sibling rivalry, that I think is at the core of a lot of the conflict, okay? So, it's not to say the whole point of this conversation isn't to have no conflict, is to say “let's address the core need or the core fear that it's kind of motivating a lot of the conflict, so then I can understand better how to help the kid through it”, okay? So, I would suggest that the thing I felt, like when you were pregnant about to have Abby is, I felt there was a rivalry and the rivalry was, like you said, a lack of resources and the resource for me, was love, you know? I wouldn't have phrased it back then, I would have phrased it with time, you know, time with you, money, you know, whatever it was that I knew when this kid came into the world, they were going to take a lot of it, you know?

[Kyle]: It was money, time and I’m sure anybody listening knows what I’m talking about, but really, I think-- When I really drilled down on it, it was I didn't believe love was infinite, I believed love was finite, okay? That what you and I had was good and now this kid's gonna come in and it's going to rock the whole boat and now, I didn't believe that the love was going to increase, which now I look at it like, that's silly [Laughter] But I was obviously an immature person, right? I didn't see the world the way I do now, thank god I’ve grown and changed, but now I see love is infinite, you know? But I would say-- We have 3 kids, we recently added a puppy in the mix, right? So, we bought a puppy back in September and once again, I had the exact same feeling that this puppy was sucking our time, our energy and I wasn't seeing how the puppy was an asset, the puppy just seemed like a deficit, it seemed like the puppy-- I was going back to this love being finite, right?

[Kyle]: Now, things have gotten better with the puppy [laughter] We have paid some money to have training happen, but you-- But wouldn't you say like with that puppy scenario, that now we're seeing how love is still infinite. Maybe having this puppy is helping us grow and helping the kids grow, right?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah [Laughter] I’m still-- I’m still sort of in the trauma of the puppy, but yes. No, I do embrace that, I do and the whole time even with the struggle with the puppy, I felt like “oh my goodness, give me 5 babies compared to this one puppy!” [Laughter] But yes, where you have to-- Where I’d have to intentionally think “okay, how can--? This is infinite, this is not, you know, where you feel stuck and fighting for something.

[Kyle]: Well, even some cool examples of that would be, of course this puppy takes time, of course this puppy takes a lot of mental energy and physical energy, right? But you see like Ellie, who's our youngest, I mean, it's kind of cool that she-- She's our last kid and we don't have any more plans-- Have plans to have any more and so, then to have a puppy in the mix, you've seen how Ellie has almost taken a big sister role to taking care of the puppy. We've seen opportunities for the kids. I know this may sound strange to our listeners, but I think it's a great act of love, to go pick up the dog's poop [Laughter] And to go do that and I always encourage kids that come see me in session, who want pets and they don't want to pick up poop and I’m like “I wouldn't give you a pet either”, like “you need you need to be willing to be loving to the pet, by taking care of these things and the dog can't pick up its own poop, yeah?” So, you go do these things and every time the kids do it, I see love expanding in them and in our family.

[Sara]: Yeah, I completely agree, it's definitely that more moving into selfless-ness of thinking about the other. So, holding myself important, but I can hold this other important thing too.

[Kyle]: So, I want to start with that big picture, because I think that's super important, to start the big picture. One, we want to keep saying in our families “love is infinite”, okay? That you two coming together, having more of you people in our lives, although it did take a lot from us, it gave us more than it ever took.

[Kyle]: And I have noticed, I hope every parent listening has noticed, how having these children has expanded me into a more loving person. Because I thought I knew what it meant to love somebody when I was single, then I married you and then like, loving somebody else, okay, that expanded me, but then having each of the kids and how different each of them are, now my love is exponentially increased!

[Sara]: And they can do that for each other.

[Sara]: It's not-- I mean, I think everyone go “oh, yes, as a parent it expands you, for sure”, but it brings the same opportunity to the siblings.

[Sara]: When they welcome a new sibling and a new person, it's the same opportunity for them, but we can come along and help them navigate that and see it as that, versus just “okay, now there's a battle."

[Kyle]: Well, then-- So, what it does once we start setting that message, then it frees the kids, like you're saying, once I see you that you're not my rival, we're not against each other, we're for each other, we've said that before on another podcast. “You're on-- We're on the same team, man”, yeah? Then now, I can see having the sibling is an asset, it never needs to become a deficit, right? It's always going to be an asset and I think it’s an important switch.

[Sara]: And I think that’s-- Yeah, I think it's an important switch and I think you do need to make sure that's the message you're sending out.

[Sara]: So, be intentional about, there's plenty of love to go around, we are for each other, each other-- We're assets to each other, you want to put that language in there, because there's going to be lots of moments where they don't feel like it's true. So, we want to have other moments where we're talking about that, we don't just think “oh, I hope they get it."

[Sara]: We want to say it, put words to it, write it on the wall, make little messages that you have in different places of your house. “We're for each other, we're a team, we're a family, we're--”, you know, build that atmosphere in your home.

[Kyle]: Yes, and the way you see that a lot is, you'll have siblings who are different, which is great. [Laughter] It'd be gross if all of you were the same, and that the kids have different personalities, different interests, different-- That is a plus, that's good, but what I find I’m always having to talk to kids about or who really help kids quite often. Even you hear me say “always” after we just talked about that in the first episode.

[Kyle]: Is quite often, I’m talking to the kids about them being more open to understand that that difference is an asset, you know? That the fact that you are more tidy and more like, organized and the other kid is more like “wee!” and just like-- That that's great, like your sibling can help you not be so rigid and be a little more flexible and yet, you can help your other sibling be a little more tidy, you know? And so, when we've done those conversations, it starts to help the kids go “oh”. They've kind of been stuck in this way of thinking of “you're not like me and being around you is a constant conflict”, you know? There's nothing good coming out of it, so we're constantly fighting about this, but just changing the story and how we view it and like you said, it comes from us modeling it first and how we're interacting with them, but that really is gonna help with a lot of getting rid of the rivalry, but then helping reframe the conflict.

[Sara]: Yeah, instead of seeing as “I need to find people like me”.

[Sara]: “You're not like me, you're my brother, you just love to play Legos and be in your room all the time. I want to be out with my friends, I’m so social”. You'll see it as “okay, we just can't-- We can't ever be compatible, we can't get along because we're just too different”, but you've got to switch that and help them have those conversations and notice it. Notice when you see “oh, the extroverted sister is helping the brother make friends” or “the brother is bringing calm to the sister who's like, always out there!”.

[Sara]: You know, there's places where they give to each other, give of themselves and their personality to the other and you want to notice those and help them see that.

[Kyle]: I love it. As you're talking, I just real quick the way we notice this and the way once we started looking for this is, Abby, our oldest, is just much more gregarious and much more talkative and Brennan is just a little less so and so, what we noticed from the time they're little, Abby would always help Brennan navigate those social situations much better and Brennan loved that, he loved that he kind of navigate-- Even we'd be at Chick-fil-a or something and some conflict would arise with Brennan and some other kid and Abby would stand up for him and like, tell like you to back off and it was awesome, but what also Brennan does for Abby, is he helps her see the details. He's a much more detailed organized, probably going to be an engineer or something like that kind of person and where Abby doesn't see the details, you know? She's more gregarious, outgoing and just “yay!”, you know? And so, it's been really fun to see them see each other as an asset and not only notice it, but receive it and be like “oh, I’m so glad you're in my life because you helped me be this, you know?” and “I’m so glad--”.

[Kyle]: So, that's something I would say I never had with my brothers and sisters, was seeing that on a regular basis. So, it's been really, really cool to see our kids see that and I think it goes back to a shifting, of me particularly [Laughter] That love is infinite and not finite and we don't have to fight each other to get things, you know?

[Kyle]: So, I wanted to set that big picture. Now, specifically as a parent, some quick advice to them is, I say what helps model that, is when I stop coming into conflict as a referee and instead, I come into conflict as a coach. Why is that distinction important, Sara?

[Sara]: Well, you know, a ref comes in and they judge the game, right? They find out where the foul is, who is right and who is wrong and it creates a triangle. So, you have the person who's wrong and the person who did the wrong thing and then, you have the poor little victim over here and you're the judge and it creates just a battle, all those pieces are battling and judging.

[Kyle]: Yeah, you’re giving out cards and your fouls and punishments.

[Sara]: Yes, and the two pieces involved, the two children involved, don't learn how to go to each other, they learn to go find a judge to make the call.

[Kyle]: To arbitrate, arbitrate what justice is.

[Sara]: But in life, they're going to have to go to the person.

[Sara]: A lot of times. If you always ran to your boss every time a colleague, you know, like “yeah, this person next to me, they ate my sandwich from the fridge”, you know?

[Kyle]: That's disgusting, but yes. And a boss should be upset about because that's gross.

[Sara]: But you know, like in a dating relationship and in a future relationship, you want them to be able to know how to go to that person and resolve it.

[Sara]: And so, remove yourself from being the ref and just be the coach and coach them on the skills on how to do that. How can they look at each other and say what happened and so, you're just in that coaching role of walking them through and building the skills like a coach does. You build the skills with them, so they can go on and do it on their own.

[Kyle]: When you totally go “oh--” I mean, I know this may sound silly to a lot of parents, but to go “oh, cool, conflict, this is great! How else would they learn to resolve conflict and I’m so glad it happened with me around, because now I get to go coach them through it, right?”. I mean, that's literally what I want, I’m hoping parents their brain kind of shifts to that of like, “conflict between siblings? Wow, this is awesome! What asset they are to each other?”. That anytime people are getting close and spending a lot of time, they're going to rub against each other, it's gonna create friction. So, now is the time not to blow the whistle and get flags, but to teach them how to resolve it, right?

[Sara]: Yeah, and a real easy example of this is, let's say you have a kid who's a little more aggressive, a little more loud and knows what they want and they really assert themselves and you have another kid who's more laid back, easy going and so, a lot of times in that dynamic, you can see where the conflict is always the same. This kid is being too aggressive, whatever with this kid.

[Kyle]: Yeah, the loud one is the problem, yeah.

[Sara]: And then you come in as the ref and you're like “stop being such a bully to your brother” and you know, and you have to speak up for the brother, but in that if you come in as the coach, then you get to coach the one child, the more aggressive child on how to be assertive, move into this calm space, how can you do that differently. Same thing though, you're not just rescuing the other child, you're also teaching them “where's your voice? You have a strong voice. Let's be assertive, say what you like and what you don't like. How do you want to be treated? How do you want this--”. So, in that case, both kids need different skills, but they're both conflict resolution skills that'll help them for the rest of their life.

[Kyle]: And what's so cool is you're teaching boundaries and I know everybody listening to this, Sara, has had moments where the parent when they were kids, parent walked in and there was this story. One kid's the good kid, one kid's the bad kid.

[Kyle]: So, the bad kid, like you said is typically the more demonstrative one, the one that gets angry quicker and the good kid is the one who's just like, really passive and just goes “why are they hurting me?” and doesn't know how to stand up for themselves and when the parent comes in and does that, they create this triangle that basically says “hey, I will perpetuate the story, I will point fingers. You're right, you are the bad one and you are the good one” and so, the kid who's there learns “oh, this is my role, I just play this role. I can never stand up for myself, I always need mom or dad to do that for me” and the other one says “man, mom and dad are always watching for me to fail and mess up, they never help me”, you know? And so many of the conflicts that I see at the practice with kids, is that, is one has been labeled the good one, the other one the bad one.

[Sara]: And it keeps-- If you don't approach it that way, then it keeps them getting locked into a role in the family and it's not even paying attention, that's not what the focus is, the focus is on “oh, let's build some skills here.”

[Kyle]: “We both need help.”

[Sara]: Awesome

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, a cool quick way to do that, I want to give you one practical thing to do. I know I wanted to get the big picture in this in this particular podcast out, but then the one practical thing that Sara and I really like to do, this is from Conscious Discipline with Dr. Becky Bailey and when she said this, I started doing this with kids at school, it was fantastic, it really helped, okay? So, I’d like to teach parents to just say to the kid who's coming complaining or in the conflict, whoever's there, I just look at one and say “hey, did you like it?”. If the kid says “oh, they did this to me”. “Did you like it?” and what that's doing is asking your kid to think about it. “Did I like it?” and the kid would probably say “no”. “Did you say something to him?” and they might say “yes” and then, they would maybe tell me what they said and the key point to this is, one, I want them reflecting on the whole reason “why this is a conflict? Because you didn't like it”, okay? So, I want them to own that. “Now, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to go set a boundary? Are you going to go guide it?” and the thing you hear a lot from kids and I’ve encouraged listeners to listen to this, is you'll hear a lot of “stop it! Don't do that!”, you know?

[Kyle]: That's mostly what the conversation is, it's resisting, it's like “this moment is about you and you're infringing upon me and I’m just gonna tell you not to do that”, but what we're not learning is that's not resolution of conflict, that's basically saying “my way is bumping heads with your way” and typically, most parents then will either give the flags or tell them just to go separate ways, right? I want them both to know their needs are important and let's resolve this, so both needs are met, okay? And so, what that looks like is with the kid “did you like it? What did you say to him? Hey, why don't you try saying this” and I might coach them to say “hey, I don't like it when you do X, Y and Z. I don't like it when you grab my things or play with my stuff without asking me”, let's say that's the example and then, the next sentence is so important, “what would you rather them do instead of doing that?”. That's the big one lots of us miss.

[Kyle]: Lots of parents actually do an okay job with learning how to say “tell him you don't like it”, right? Or even “I don't want you to do that”. That's great, that's great, but the next one is “what do you want them to do?”, that's actually the next part of resolving the conflict of the kid, because the kid isn't trying to make all this conflict, the other kid is just trying to get what they want and they think you're in the way, so they're gonna go take it. So, in that situation you can say “next time you want something, I would like you to ask first” and then the other kid might say “but every time I ask, you say «no»”. Well, isn't that interesting? That's why they didn't ask, right? So, now we can resolve that conflict. “Is that true? Everybody else says «no»? Okay. Well, then why don't you tell them? Say what you want” and that kid could say “sometimes when I ask, I’d like you to sometimes say «yes», you always say «no» to me”, right? And so, that really helps with resolving the conflict. Any other tips you would add on top of that, Sara?

[Sara]: No, I love that and we have been practicing that for a really long time with our children and not that we do it perfect, but I love that I can see my children-- They do reflect and do think “okay, what am I wanting here?” and it holds neither party is good or bad, they're coming together and saying “I want this, this is my need and want” and the other child is able to say what they need and want and then they come together to solve the problem and sometimes, the only thing I think sometimes we do is, when it feels like they're not able to come to that resolution, we almost might even get a board out or talk about “okay, here's the problem”.

[Sara]: And “what ideas do we have?”

[Kyle]: Yeah, to make it visual.

[Sara]: Yeah, we might need to add some extra ideas in there, because maybe they're in a stuck spot, but we work through that, because that's what you're going to do in life. We need to come up with ideas where are we going to-- And it's not this win or lose, but it's coming together.

[Kyle]: Yeah, right or wrong, yeah.

[Sara]: Right. As of coming together “here's our possible solutions, let's try a couple of them, let's see which one you both like better”.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Something I want to add to that, Sara, I think some parents listening to this might be like “well, I’ve tried that and it didn't work, because they just, they don't want to talk about it”. I think that's “I got to go back and let the kids know I’m not coming in as a ref anymore”.

[Kyle]: I’m just coming in as a coach. So, when you ask for help from me, I’m not coming in going “oh, you're the bad one, you're the good one. I’m actually going to come in and help you, okay? So, please if you're having a conflict and you don't feel like you can resolve it on your own, come get me, you know? And then I would love to come intervene and help you guys work through it”.

[Sara]: Yeah, if you're doing a big shift in your parenting, we've done this even, but go to your child and say “you know what? I feel like this hasn't been going well, I want to try something new” and let them know the game plan in a moment way outside of any event happening. Find a good moment to talk to your kids and say “this is what we're going to be doing now”.

[Sara]: And then you've got to stick to it, you know? Make sure that you're consistent with it, because otherwise they don't know what they're going to get.

[Kyle]: And if you aren't, take responsibility.

[Kyle]: Say “man, I went back to ref in again, you know? I pulled out the whistle, I blew it”.

[Kyle]: So, I really hope this conversation gave you a different picture, but also some specific steps to take, to helping siblings see each other as assets rather than deficits. Really want you to focus “am I seeing love as finite or as infinite?”. So, we’d love-- We’d really appreciate you guys listening to us, I hope it's helpful to you and your families. Sara and I love doing this and just chatting about this stuff and getting a chance to put it out into the world. So, please tell friends about it, send it to other people who you think are having a lot of sibling conflict, because I bet you all know people who are going through that and even if you have older kids, this would be a great one to listen to with teenagers and all that stuff. You could listen to this recording with them.

[Kyle]: So, I hope it's helpful, please give us a review. If you like what you're listening to, we'd love any comments you have and any shares. You can actually go to, we've done a whole training just on how to resolve conflict in your family. So, there's a whole course on there that you could buy and listen to over and over again and I think it would even more help you with this shift if this is something you want to do, if you want to create a family where all assets are differences or strengths and not weaknesses. So, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to talking to you again next week.

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