by Marilyn S. Jones
Sibling rivalry is not a new concept for anyone who has a brother or a sister. In a recent study, professor Mark Feinberg and his colleagues at the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State questioned if children can be taught healthy ways to resolve issues.
Their research results demonstrate that “siblings of elementary-school age can learn to get along” with some instructional assistance from their parents, and as a result “can improve their future health and well-being.”
Is this reflected in what local residents have to say about their own experiences with siblings?
Charlene Williams, a mother of three grown children, said, “I like to think that as I was raising my children, we set the example as to how we behaved towards others. I was kind to my children, their peers and my circle of friends and family, and the world at large. I assume they learned by example; they didn’t express rivalry.”
But does Charlene’s daughter, Chloe, agree?
“My brother and I were always good,” Chloe said. “My sister and I, on the other hand, argued quite a bit when we were younger. Sometimes my mom would tell us to knock it off, but she would just let us figure stuff out. Even though my sister and I would fight, we’re still best friends.”
She seems to have learned from her parents’ example, but is some direct instruction helpful?
In Feinberg’s study, he determined that children can actually be given the “tools” for conflict resolution. However, parents should “not resolve the issue for them, but instead give them just enough help so that they can calmly discuss and resolve the problem on their own.”
This need for independence is reflected in Danielle Crowe’s assessment of her relationship with her older brother.
“I am 34 and my brother is 36,” Crowe said. “We have had what I consider to be a healthy rivalry our entire lives. At this point, it is really just a running joke that we are constantly striving for “favorite” status with our relatives. The great outcome of this (rivalry) for our family is that we do a little more visiting and make more thoughtful gestures than we might have without it.”
Like Williams, Crowe feels that solving her own problems produced a positive outcome.
“We would scream eloquently at each other, then start to laugh, then get mad because we were laughing,” Heather Herncane said about her relationship with her younger sister. “You learn how to not handle things.”
With her own three children, Herncane said, “The study was very accurate. I say, “Why don’t you try saying this or why don’t you try saying that?” I help walk them through the steps in hope it will become a habit.”
For example, Herncane may say to her oldest son, “Hey, try not to call him (the younger son) a bad boy; try to tell him he’s making a bad choice.”
Herncane’s sister, Manda, said, “I do remember when we would fight and my parents would interfere that it would annoy us so much that, instead of being angry at each other, we would get angry at them. We’d just be so annoyed with them that we would stop fighting with each other. It would defuse the argument. I think the study sounds right on. If you have a healthy relationship with your sibling, if they are your peer, it would be more likely for you to have healthy relationships as an adult, because you understand the ideas of compromise and teamwork, which are important parts of adult relationships.”
Carol Paul, the mother of four grown children said, “…my three sons and daughter might have heard me say during their growing up years, “Paul kids don’t do that,” or “In our family, we try to be thoughtful and kind.
“Their squabbles were rare. When they did occur, they quickly subsided without much intervention.”
On the other hand, Jack Pick said, “Having five sisters, my parents intervened a lot when conflicts arose.”
According to Pick, there was a lot of conflict between him (the only boy in the family) and his sisters, which made him cynical about women. So, had his parents not intervened, he “may not have respected women as much later in life.”
Jim Fay, from a family with six children, said that his “parents got involved sometimes” and that, in his Irish-Catholic family, “There wasn’t a lot not said. Things were laid out. Expectations were clear. We kind of took the cue from (our parents). They were not domineering. They let us resolve (issues) on our own, but if resolution was not coming about, they were not hesitant to step in and resolve the situation.”
According to those interviewed and to the study, the “interfering” is needed, but should be done minimally with expectations expressed ahead of time. The report stated that, “…if the kids are fighting over what television channel to watch or whose turn it is, the parent might “give them [the children] just enough help so that they can calmly discuss and resolve the problem on their own.”
The results of the study seem to be on target according to the respondents. It appears that a small dose of advice and direction would be welcomed and may help, but that, in the end, everyone needs to initiate and create their own answers to their problems.
“When siblings come up with their own solutions,” Feinberg’s study reported, “they may be more likely to use those solutions again in the future.”