Have you ever heard the old saying, “the squeakiest cog gets the oil”? This basically means on a piece of machinery we focus on what is making the most noise more so than the other parts. Sometimes this is also the case when we are raising our children. While our children are definitely not wheels or cogs the way we focus our attention on them can mirror the way we address the emergent needs of our bikes or other machinery. During our busy lives raising multiple children with the tug and pull that happens all day we prioritize how we respond to all the needs that are presented to us. The most emergent, most critical, most persistent issues are handled first and then other items as they follow. The way we interact with our children is sometimes no different than how we fixate on a squeaky cog. In many families, the loudest, most demanding, or most assertive child gets all the attention.
I am asked a lot by parents, what is the key to raising siblings who are not constantly fighting, who do not compete and tear each other down? I have thought a lot about raising siblings and the challenges mothers and fathers like myself face every day, affirming each child, giving them each your time and attention, making an equal financial investment in their dreams. It’s not easy doing all of these things for one child, let alone more than one. However, this is very vital to fostering a healthy sibling relationship.
In my own family, I deal with this balancing act every day. When I enter my house, one of my children loves to run up to me with all her work for the day. She quickly blurts out every bit of information she’s learned. With great excitement and meticulous detail, she recounts each moment of her day in her own three-year-old way. She is often loud and demands attention. At the same time, my other child who is a little older have learned to take a step back. He gives her the room to share first, he is polite and gracious. I realize my daughter has become the squeaky wheel. I have learned to actively draw my older child into a conversation so he does not feel overlooked.
What are some other ways for parents to achieve balance, so one child does not grow to resent the time spent focused on the other? How as parents do we optimize the busy swirl of personalities in our home so even the quietest or less needy child gets equal attention? Furthermore, how do we cultivate support and not competition among our children so that it is not about the squeakiest or loudest competing to be recognized but rather that each child can own their space in the family dynamic with confidence and without competition?
As parents, we have a huge impact and we set the tone in our homes for how our children interact with each other. Our children do not have to be replicas of each other. We should not pit one against the other as some parents do, using the behavior of one as the gold standard and example for the other. So many of us are familiar with homes where siblings have bitter rivalries. They may outgrow them but sadly they can evolve into broken adult relationships. We can intervene early as parents. Here are three important lessons I shared with parents about raising siblings and creating a home that minimizes sibling rivalry.
1. Do not use comparisons to embarrass your kids:
How many times have we heard or wanted to say:
“Look at your sister she’s gotten all A’s.”
“Why can’t you get all A’s?”
“Your older brother never gets letters written home from the teacher why can’t you be more like him? “
These statements which are shaming may seem like a way to push your child forward. However, they are actually damaging on multiple levels. They can damage your child’s level of self-confidence, and they damage the friendship between your sibling children.
2. Encourage support:
On any given week in our home, we may be running from a soccer game for my son or daughter. During the games, we encourage each child to cheer for and be excited for their sibling. When our three years old had her first dance recital we made it a point to have her brother hand her the flowers at the end of the show. She was beaming with pure pride that her brother “bought” the flowers for her and watched her show. He smiled from ear to ear with the accolades and hugs she returned to him in gratitude. Watching that dynamic between the two of my children was as enjoyable as the dance performance itself. These interactions cement their loyalty and support for each other, which will serve them as they grow. Growing up my own mother used to remind my sister and me, “A sister is a friend for life”. Help your children to develop a true supportive friendship.
3. Distribute your time evenly:
You may be laughing as you read this tip, or in total disbelief. I know we are all literally multitasking all the time as parents. Our days are beyond full and time is so limited. However, when you are dealing with multiple children in your home, their confidence in their relationship with you helps them engage better with each other. There is less competition when each knows they equally have your affection, and affection and time are sometimes correlated in young minds. Some days you will hit the mark, other days the balance may be off. Just remember to reset and realign yourself and compensate for where you fell short in time allocation with a particular child. If you spent longer with one child at bedtime one evening, give a hug and kiss to the other and let them know tomorrow you will give them more time. You must then make sure to follow through.
The squeakiest cog is not the only one that should get the oil when it comes to raising siblings. Success should not be solely about material things or what our kids attain. Success is about a child reaching his or her fullest potential in any positive way they are driven to achieve in this world. We succeed as parents by creating an emotionally safe and supportive environment for all our children so their sibling relationship can thrive.