Sunday, January 25, 2015

The one with the 'good question'

Dear Dad,

How do I get my kids to not compare themselves to each other? My girls are so competitive and they are only 7 and 4!

Dear 'Good Question',

I have a feeling that if I had a definitive, universal answer to your question, I would be writing this advice column while sipping the finest of scotches, in an evening jacket from the ocean front terrace of a winter home on Waikiki.

I think as parents we have to accept that self comparison is human nature for us all - especially children who are making their way in an unknown world. When you add the concept of sibling rivalry to said comparisons we make even as adults with neighbors/strangers? You've just summed up my life as the father of twin six-year-old girls!

My advice is to highlight each of your children's strengths and applaud accomplishments and make criticisms with your children individually. Parenting can be a juggling act, and I believe having a lot of balls in the air is necessary to ensure each of your children are given the opportunity and attention for their individual selves to develop to their utmost potential.

My twins seem to reach milestones at different times, and with each accomplishment, the other becomes envious and down on herself if the same task is not mastered. My wife and I have known that an important task as parents involves the above advice - an easy feat for the first several years. Now that the girls are getting older, nature is taking its course and the girls are developing differently.  My daughters are seeing their sibling's accomplishments as "not being as good as" if one is not physically or psychologically ready for something the other has achieved.

One of my twins grew just tall enough to be able to use the water slide at our community pool just before it closed in October. My twins were equally terrified and enthralled by the water slide since we moved to Florida in August. When one of them was finally able to take the plunge, the moment was intense for her - a definitive marker event in her experience of growing up. She jumped up and down and screeched with excitement of her huge achievement. Her shorter (but two minutes older) twin sister was crushed. The same younger and taller sister has lost not one, but three teeth. My daughter has said more than once that she feels like "a big baby" because she is "so far behind" her sister. She has expressed a sense of defeat and of not being 'as good as' her little sister.

When we went to our last dental appointment, the twins advised their very precocious and smart 20-something dental hygienist of these facts, accomplishments, and pitfalls. The hygienist looked at my shorter, has-all-her-teeth twin and whispered, with a wink: "you are older by 2 minutes? That is something that you will always have - you are a big sister! It is great that your little sister is accomplishing these things that you will soon accomplish and master, but she will never be older than you. Don't say anything to her, because that would make her feel bad; but, don't feel bad because you are always a step ahead." 

The beaming, prideful look on my daughter's face was priceless and taught me something: it is sometimes OK to point out advantages one child has over another, so long as it is co-taught that flaunting said advantages would make others feel bad and be in poor form.

My wife and I waited until we had a moment alone with 'big sister' to discuss the situation. She was full grinned and boasting about the responsibilities of being a 'big sister'. We agreed with her about those responsibilities, but focused on her artwork, her grasp of technology, and her creativity and how amazing she was in those areas and how she should focus on her many accomplishments. She focused, rather vocally, on being two minutes older than her little sister and what a big deal it was that she
 is, was, and always will be a big sister!

I guess there are no definitive rules, and am now very aware of our next project/life lesson - tact and humility. Thank you for submitting your question which allowed me to focus on this subject - this has given me food for thought.  Please keep us updated, and best of luck to you!

How do you deal with your children comparing themselves to each other and with sibling rivalry? Do you take an active role to try to influence/referee your children, or allow them to figure it out for themselves?

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