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Power and Siblings
Photo: Leroy Skalstad
I was the boss. I was bigger and louder than my little brother. He was lucky to get a word in edgewise and didn’t get many chances to pick what game we’d play or the role he’d have in our make-believe stories.

Most families face the challenge of how to balance power among siblings. There are natural roles often adopted by children based on their birth order. The eldest child often tries to please by being responsible and protecting others, is often bossy and enjoys controlling the younger kids. A second child is always competing to overtake the eldest, sometimes by rebelling against what is expected. A middle child feels squeezed and left out and often becomes adaptable in order to fit in. The youngest child (like an only child) is often pampered and spoiled and expects others to do for him/her.

There were a couple of things my parents did to try to level the playing field between my brother and me. 

Level the Playing Field

The first was having a Family Counsel. Anytime one of us had an issue or suggestion or problem with the family, we could call a family counsel. At that time, we could present our issue and it would be discussed and voted on by the family. I’m sure my parents had veto rights, but it usually felt to me as if we all came to agreement. My mom or dad would call a family counsel before making plans for our spring vacation, I could call a counsel to discuss changes to our chores or to complain about Scott bugging me too much, he could call a counsel to talk about wanting more TV time or ask to take guitar lessons.

The nice thing about Family Counsel is that it allowed my parents to effectively end arguments or complaint sessions by saying, “Call a family counsel.” Often, by the time the evening meeting came, we would have forgotten our petty concerns.

The other helpful thing my parents did was to have a few “no win” games around for us to play together on the weekends. One was called the Ungame®.* The board was basically a circle with no end (therefore no winner) and the various squares indicated different cards which asked simple questions like, “What do you think life will be like in 100 years?” or “Talk about something you think is beautiful” or “What four things are most important to you?” The catch was that no one was allowed to speak during someone else’s turn – not even to comment afterwards. This was a great lesson in listening and gave my little brother the unusual chance to speak up and share his own feelings.

There is no simple guide to raising happy siblings, but it will always help if parents canencourage each child to feel safe expressing their feelings.

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By Joelle Yamada. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

* Ungame® by Talicor, http//www.talicor.com

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