Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sibling Rivalry and Homeschooling




SIBLING RIVALRY
Every parent on the planet who has two or more children know this word well.  Most of us can recall our own brushes with sibling rivalry from when we were children.  Children who function in close proximity to one another find themselves wrapped in competition.  I wonder how this trait developed in our species.  Surely I’m not dealing with this one because the ancestors of our species feared that moment when a predator was out for a meal and a mammalian parent had to choose which offspring to protect?!
Suffice it to say that this rivalry is absolutely normal.  Even the intensively competitive feelings that an older toddler can experience when a new baby comes in to the family.  Parents of new infants can be shocked when their older, loving, confident child begins to exhibit wild jealousy and competition with the younger usurper.  Life in these newly growing families can be very untidy, beginning with these young lives causing such difficulty to one another.  Parents watch in shocked wonder when their older children begin exhibiting those rivalry tendencies towards the new little one.

We recently uncovered a VHS movie taken when my youngest was about two and my oldest was about five.  It was amazing to watch the jealousy in my older, previously totally confident daughter!  I wanted to just hold that little one again and remind her that my love is always with her!   And parents can do many things to help sooth some of the pain of that little one going through such large and new feelings.  Eventually, families begin to find their way through these years…

Homeschooling adds some special issues to sibling rivalry.  Children homeschooled together tend to have very close bonds but that doesn’t preclude the rivalry issue.  My own children tend to move through phases of rivalry.  For the most part they get along well, respect one another’s differences, support each other, and recognize their differing personalities and traits.  Usually.

Maybe it is because we don’t have public school peers to encourage distance between the ages and the genders.  I could be wrong about that, but I remember many instances when my peers undermined my close relationships with my little sisters when we were kids!  Maybe it is because homeschooling in our family fosters clear communication, responsibility, and individuality.  Something happens that makes these difficult periods of very short duration and intensity.  I am fairly certain that my EXPECTATIONS of little rivalry has something to do with it.  The kids know that they are expected to respect one another and that they will be respected in turn.

It is our attitude, my husband and I, that I believe is the strongest influence on the kids’ ability to navigate their sibling rivalry as well as they do.  We try to be fair, we acknowledge that one has a right to their own feelings and those feelings are honored, we give them room to deal with their strong feelings and with one another on their own, we make ourselves available for assistance if requested, and we live under the assumption that children will treat one another with respect.

Learning how to deal with conflict, how to maintain dignity, how to express one’s self clearly, how to respect differences in one another, and how to find forgiveness and acceptance and peace again are ongoing lessons in our family.  We talk about peacekeeping often and point out moments of excellence in communication.  We’re not perfect, any of us, but I’m convinced that our focus on positive character traits is preparing the kids to be peacekeepers, confident adults, and loving human beings.

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