Holiday Hostility

Christmas is a beautiful time of year with smiling children opening presents under the tree—but that's not always the case. Check out this scene.

Mom: Mark, since you're the oldest why don't you hand out presents? Then we can open them one at a time and see the happy expressions on each other's face.

Tom (6-year-old): Why does he get to do everything? I never get to do anything.

Mom: Okay, Tom, you can help your brother.

Mark (8 years old): I don't want his help.

Dad: Boys, please get along. It's Christmas.

(General huffing and grumbling, but no fighting, can be heard as presents are handed out—until . . .)

Tom: Hey, look! I got more presents than Mark. Ha! Ha!

Mark (pausing to count presents): Mom, why did Tom get more presents than me? That's not fair.

Mom: Well, Honey, your presents cost more because you're bigger.

Mark (gloating to Tom): Did you hear that? I'm the biggest, and you're the smallest.

Tom (pouting): I'll always be the smallest. It's not fair.

Does it seem like sibling rivalry never takes a holiday at your house? Dr. James Dobson says brotherly bickering is as old as the human race.

"The underlying source of this conflict is old-fashioned jealousy and competition between children," Dr. Dobson explains. "It was responsible for the first murder on record (when Cain killed Abel) and has been represented in virtually every two-child family from that time to this."

But don't be discouraged. While sibling rivalry may be a problem difficult to avoid, its effects can be managed and minimized.

Second, Dr. Dobson says parents should try to avoid circumstances that compare children unfavorably with each other. When the mom in the above scene said Mark was bigger, Tom immediately became defensive about his size. And boys are especially sensitive about their physical stature and athletic ability.

Finally, Dr. Dobson and his wife made some house rules about sibling rivalry as they reared their children, Danae and Ryan. Some of these concepts could really help Mark and Tom's parents.

No. 1: Neither child should ever be allowed to make fun of the other in a destructive way. Period! This is an inflexible rule with no exceptions.

No. 2: The older child is not permitted to tease the younger child.

No. 3: The younger child is forbidden to harass the older child.

Obviously, Mark and Tom have mastered the art of teasing and harassing each other. Siblings do tend to have an uncanny knack of pushing the right buttons. However, their parents shouldn't let this behavior continue.

Dr. Dobson says that if children respect the leadership of the parent and the parent is willing to mediate and enforce the rules, even a harried holiday can turn into a happy one.

Background Information

Journey of No Return
Sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires. Maybe it's time to stop being so negative.

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

Questions and Answers

After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?

We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?

How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?

I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?

It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Is it healthy to spank him or her?

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RelationshipsParents and Adult Children, Blended Families