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Q: When one of my children hurts the other I feel enraged, specially when he is grinning as though enjoying her pain. Still, I try to explain gently why he should not hurt his sister. Nothing helps. I would appreciate your guidance on sibling rivalry.

A: No matter how gently we tell a child not to hurt another, he cannot hear us. He can only hear that he is “not” all right with us and therefore not worthy of love. Feeling rejected and desperate, the child is then likely to lash out even more at his sibling seeing her as the cause of losing parental love. Our disproval re-affirms his worst fear that he has lost his place in our heart. He has no control over his inner drive to act out his valid anxiety.

In addition to emotional issues, siblings are often left to their own for too long and simply fail to get along. Social skills take years to develop. Considering that we, adults, have not mastered relationships yet, we may as well focus on improving ourselves, specially as we respond to children’s rivalry. Much of this kind of sibling rivalry can be prevented by setting things in a way that is more supportive of the children’s ability and needs.

Dahlia was running around the house screaming and crying. "I hate her! I hate her! I will never play with her again!" Finally, her steps slowed, and she told her father what had happened. He listened attentively. When she stopped, he asked, "Is there anything else?" Dahlia added more details and resumed crying bitterly. Father listened. When Dahlia stopped talking, he acknowledged, "I understand and I love you very much." Dahlia accepted her father's embrace and support as she sobbed some more in his arms. Then as suddenly as the storm of tears began, she was finished. She got up and cheerfully announced, "Daddy, did you know that tomorrow Tina and I are going together to the beach? We are building a log house there with Adam and Tom. I will tell Tina before we go that I won't ruin her work again, and I am sure she will be nice to me."

Why was this encounter so successful? How did Dahlia get over her upset so completely and become aware of her responsibility in the matter on her own?

 
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