Part of the genetic makeup of any siblings seems to be that there is some sort of rivalry between them. I have a brother, and we were competitive when we were living in the same home. And now my boys exhibit the same symptoms of rivalry that I recall as a child. With my own guys, Luke has spent most of the past 10 years trying to catch up to his older brother. For Chris’ part (my son with autism), it’s been a challenge to stay ahead of Luke developmentally.
Now, while as a parent you don’t want rivalries to come to blows or property destruction, there are ways to make that natural competition work for the siblings and make both stronger and more self-sufficient.
- Never compare children. Each is a unique individual with his or her own strengths and deficits. When you’re raising a child with a disability, some of those deficits can be blatantly obvious to everyone in the room. Chris has had an academic tutor for almost three years. He knows it’s difficult for him to stay organized and keep his mind on his homework…and so does Luke. For his part, Luke isn’t as careful with his work as Chris and tends to gloss over concepts (and directions) to get straight to the answer. So we try very hard not to have conversations that start with “Why can’t you be more like ___?” For one thing, if they knew why they were different, they’d be reknowned doctors. For another, if the whole point is “You know you need to pay more attention when you’re completing your work,” or “When you find your mind wandering, remember to get back to work,” say that instead. It only makes one sibling angry at the other to be compared unfavorably.
- Encourage cooperation. Siblings know what each other is good (and bad) at. If they can discover each other’s strengths and learn from them cooperatively instead of competitively, sharing tips for success, what works, and how they figured out how to do it successfully.
- Highlight accomplishments. If one of the boys does something remarkable, he should be able to bask in it a little. That includes getting kudos from his brother. Each of them has felt the glow of being congratulated for a job well done, and hearing it from his own brother is a bigger shot in the arm than both of them know. On the receiving end, the one who did well gets to hear it from his brother. On the giving end, the brother saying so gets to see the positive impact of his words. Words are powerful, and praise given is just gratifying as praise received.
- Celebrate individuality. I’ve watched each of them arrive at the same destination using very different paths. No one way is more right than the other if the answer is the same. But it’s neat for each of them to see that there are different ways to arrive at the same place.
Siblings compete. It’s natural and normal. Luke keeps Chris from sitting back and coasting through school. And Chris keeps Luke motivated to learn more and achieve. As long as each sibling knows he is valuable and appreciated as a strong and useful individual with good ideas and natural talents unique to him, they’ll continue to grow as dependable, honest young men, and that is, after all, the ultimate goal.