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The Good Sister Present: Helping Kids Cope with Sibling Rivalry
The Good Sister Present
My mother developed a wonderful way to manage sibling rivalry on birthdays when my sister and I were little. She called it the “good sister present.” At each of our birthdays she would have a small but nice toy, also wrapped up in a bow, for the birthday girl to give to her sister with appreciation for being a good sister. She did this until I was about seven or eight years old. Even now, in my thirties, I can remember these occasions. I think I still have one of the presents, a much desired “my little pony” toy, somewhere in a box in my storage closet. I can remember how much receiving a present of my own helped on a day when my sister was getting all the attention and gifts. I was more able to be cheerful and gracious and more able to enjoy the celebration because I had also received both a special thing and the acknowledgement of being a special person – a good sister.
My sister and I had a particularly intense sibling rivalry, generated by our similar and very strong personalities, that didn’t settle down until adulthood. When it did finally resolve we were left with a strong and loving friendship and I can say now that my sister is my best, most trusted female friend. I believe she would say the same about me. We both agree that we wish we could have arrived here earlier, but I know my mom’s efforts helped keep things free of bitterness that could have marred our adult relationship. I know many families have much calmer relationships between siblings and parents might not see the need for giving something extra. However, at it's heart the “good sister (or brother) present” tactic is about making the effort on a regular basis to assure each child that she is loved and special. From this standpoint, I believe this technique can be very helpful even in families where siblings are more compatible.
A New Generation of Siblings
Let’s face it; at times being a sibling is wonderful and at times it is, well, tough! There is a reason that almost everyone can relate to the idea of sibling rivalry. From an older child’s perspective they lose the sole attention of Mom, Dad and everyone else in their family. When the new baby is small and needing huge amounts of attention and care it can feel particularly bitter, but even when things even out in terms of adjusting to the new baby there can be a sense of jealousy and loss. They’ve been displaced and they fear being replaced. From a younger child’s perspective there is always this other child there, bigger than you, who can do everything better than you can. You can’t ever catch up and be the bigger, older, smarter, more capable child. You never get to do anything first. You never have had and never will have all of your parent’s love and attention for yourself because your sibling has always been there.
I only have one child so far, but I still use the “good sibling present” technique, with modifications, on my friend’s children. When I make a gift for an expected new baby I always purchase or make a gift for the older child as well. I make a point of how special they are as the older sibling and how many things they will be able to do that the new baby can’t do. I bring two gifts on birthdays; one for the birthday child and one for the sibling. When I am speaking with siblings I try to empathize with each of their perspectives and verbalize what is good and not so good about being an older or younger sibling. I also talk about being a sister myself, and how it was hard when I was little but how much I love my sister now. I don’t know if my actions help smooth things out for my friend’s kids, but my hope is that I am contributing as part of the “village” to another generation of siblings who can say they are best friends.