Sibling Rivalry

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While leaving the grocery store yesterday, I walked behind a mom and her two young sons. Each boy had made a purchase and the following exchange took place.

"I still have more money than you," said the older boy.

"Why do you have to make him feel bad?" said the mother.

This age-old question has been asked of harried mothers since the beginning of time. Surprisingly, teachers often experience the same "sibling rivalry" among classmates. Children spend many hours a day with the same group of peers and it is common for them to get under each other's skin, especially towards the end of the year. As the temperature heats up, so do tempers.

What can teachers and moms do this time of year- and all year round- to limit sibling and peer rivalry? Try these strategies and keep the peace in your classroom or in your home.

Define fairA wise professor once told me "Fair doesn't mean everyone gets the same thing; fair means everyone gets what they need." I abide by this philosophy in the classroom and I find that students respond well to this rule. I tell students that everyone has things they are good at and everyone has things they need help with. Explaining that sometimes you will have my attention and sometimes you won't sets the tone for the classroom and shows students that they will have their turn. The same can be done at home.

Set limitsI use the words acceptable, unacceptable, appropriate, and inappropriate with my students. I teach them what those words mean and I use them when addressing behavior. Be clear- do not use these words as a put-down. You are defining what is acceptable and appropriate in your home and your classroom. For example, in a neutral tone say "It is inappropriate to speak to your sister that way. Those words are unacceptable." You are setting clear limits for behavior and language without threatening punishment. There is no threat: "Don't say that or you will lose (item)." It's simply unacceptable to say unkind or hurtful things. Children look to us to set limits and when you are consistent with your expectations, they will respond.

Divide and conquer Provide opportunities for your children or students to spend time apart. Send a stressed-out student for a walk to deliver a note to the office. Moms- send one child to your neighbor's to borrow some sugar. Assign chores on opposite ends of the house. Arguing children are like magnets - they find their way back to each other. Purposely separate children because they won't separate themselves - and they need a break.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.