Are your kids competitive with one another? Are you tired of hearing them boast, “I’m faster than you” or “I’m smarter than you”? Do they one-up each other? Or try to put each other down? Do they attempt to look good in your eyes by tattling on each other?
For Pete’s sakes, why do they even care?
Weary parents want to know why siblings treat each other like opponents to beat rather than an ally to play with. Let’s take a closer look at the family dynamics behind this phenomenon, because your relationship with your kids’ mom or dad may well be at the root of it.
Children watch the relationship between their parents and make conclusions about how people relate to one another and how the world works. When parents are competitive with each other, our children are more likely to become competitive with their siblings, too. It’s not just modelling behaviour, they’re also adopting a mindset.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Me? Competitive? No!” Too many of us don’t even recognize our competitiveness, and in this case, I am using the term “competitive” in psychological terms, referring to a competitive mindset. It’s about seeing your worth as being measured by a scorecard.
Competitive couples are constantly bean counting. “I picked up the kids from school so you should do tuck-ins.” Everything is about tit for tat. Heaven forbid someone gets ahead!
Once children begin to perceive this measurement system, they start living by it, too. “How am I doing? How do I measure up? Who’s ahead of me? Who do I have to surpass?”
“Hey, he got a bigger pancake than me!” “He pushed the elevator button last time — it’s my turn!”
None of this happens in a non-competitive relationship. Those people realize that in life and in loving relationships, things are very often not fair, and so be it. If you are married to a marathon runner, they will be out of the house running for long hours every day.
Perhaps the only time you want leisure for yourself is to go to your Monday night book club. Yes, there is blatant imbalance in the amount of leisure time between people, but since neither wants more or less, it’s not unfair. It’s simply everyone’s various needs being met. This is known as having an attitude of abundance. It’s non-competitive. It’s being loving.
In loving relationships we accept and appreciate that there are always differences between one another. We trust that our unique needs will be met in the relationship because those around us will care for us, not because it’s owed.
So, the next time your child complains their sibling got a bigger pancake, don’t reinforce the notion that a measuring rod exists between them by making things “fair and equal.”
Instead, dissuade them of this faulty notion by saying, “It doesn’t matter how big your brother’s pancake is, the question is do you have enough to eat or are you hungry for more? We have plenty for all.”
So, the next time your child complains their brother got a bigger pancake, don’t reinforce the notion that a measuring rod exists between them by making things ‘fair and equal.’
In a healthy relationship, we aim for solutions that are best for both, instead of a win–lose goal. If one of you has a more lenient parenting style, and the other is harsher, do you fight about whose approach is right or wrong? Or, do you work together to embrace how both leniency and sternness each have their benefits in some situations. Now you are thinking in terms of being complementary, and additive. Together you are truly better!
Accepting diversity is also an important concept, as diversity is noncompetitive. When one of your children is very outgoing and the other is shy, don’t compare them and urge the shy child to be more like their sibling.
Embrace the notion that all people bring different gifts, talents and strengths to the family; no better or worse; no right or wrong. Nor should we chastise a child for not being athletic or scholarly. Instead, focus on their efforts and improvements.
Embrace the notion that all people bring different gifts, talents and strengths to the family; no better or worse; no right or wrong.
Remember, when a child is non-competitive, it doesn’t mean they are not ambitious and won’t try to achieve — quite the opposite. A non-competitive child is not threatened by how others are doing, so they can focus on their own efforts without fear of coming up short. Without fear they can apply all their energy to their performance.
Loving, abundant, non-competitive siblings can play a board game together and end the game with a handshake saying, “Good game! Maybe I will win the next one!” Competitive kids will flip the board over and scream, “I am never playing with you again!” If they can’t measure up and be better than a sibling, they may avoid competition all together.
Loving, abundant, non-competitive siblings can play a board game together and end the game with a handshake saying, ‘Good game! Maybe I will win the next one!’ Competitive kids will flip the board over and scream, ‘I am never playing with you again!’
Perhaps you’ve not flipped over a board game with your spouse as of late, but is there anything you’ve stopped doing or avoided doing to prevent being compared? Do you experience feelings of inadequacy because your partner earns more, or are busy making sure everything is tit for tat? If so, it’s time to break the competitive and comparative narrative in your head that was probably planted there from witnessing your own parents’ marriage.
Do you experience feelings of inadequacy because your partner earns more, or are busy making sure everything is tit for tat?
It’s never too late to change our thinking. You’ll be amazed at how liberating and joyful it will feel when you’re not spending your time comparing and competing with one another.
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Author: Alyson Schafer