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  • Filipinos on Parenting Part I: Sibling Unrivalry: Are You Fostering Harmful Competition in Your Children?

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    Filipino mental healthHave you heard these questions/phrases in your home?

    Bakit di mo gayahin ang kuya/ate mo…( why can’t you be like your sister or brother..) ?

    Sinong mas maganda si sister 1 o si sister 2 ( Whose prettier this sister or that..)?

    Sinong mas love mo, si mommy o si daddy(who do you love more daddy or mommy)?

    Buti pa ang ate mo… (At least your ate is this way or does things a certain way).

    If you’ve heard these phrases/questions growing up either from your parents or other relatives, chances are you are Filipino or Filipino American.

    Our parents do not change what they know simply because they geographically moved their bodies abroad.

    In fact, at times, they may stubbornly hold on to what they know much tighter because it feels familiar

    or , because

    their very own parents used the same tone of voice to communicate affection and foster motivation.

    That parent might be YOU now.

    I know that you may say these things jokingly with no intent to scar your children. I, myself, love a good laugh, and I know you do, too.

    In the Philippines, it’s quick to spot barkadas (group of friends) laughing as their heads nod almost in unison in shared amusement. We are a culture that uses humor for many things.

    But, sibling rivalry is no laughing matter. I’ve seen families torn by them.

    The good news is, sibling rivals can still be unrivaled, the earlier the better. The work though belongs more to us, the parents, so that our children can follow suit.

    To begin the unrivaling process, you must first be aware what you’re doing to foster this harmful competition. We will discuss on PART II what can you do about it, but for now, just observe yourself (with kindness please). Let’s begin-

    • Comparing your child to the “better” sibling to motivate them to do better is very discouraging. You do this by using the sample phrases above or using another child’s performance as the standard of excellence.
    • Asking questions where your child has to pick a better parent fosters favoritism. The who do you love more or who makes the better sinigang question.
    • Your temperament is more align with a particular child ( this in itself is not a bad thing). Temperament is said to be the mood disposition you were born with. You might have observed that some babies tend to be calm at birth and others a bit fussier. Temperament is not necessarily static but can depend on the environment one is exposed with. For example, if you have a calm temperament and may not be aware of this, you may find yourself aligning with your easy-going child over your energetic child. And, therefore may not notice that you give more verbal praises to your aligned child. Even though this may not be your intent, this child may see him/herself as the “better child.”
    • You share with one child their sibling’s shortcomings to further the consequences of shame to that child that broke a rule. You do this when you react instantly when one child tells on the other without checking out the facts first. Without even stating it, it is obvious from to an outsider that there is a “ better child” in your household ( usually the one that tells on the other as a pattern) while  allowing the other to be known as the “ mischievous one.” As this may be true in many families, fact- checking equalizes the need for the “better child” to be the extra eye for mom. In addition, asking the told-on sibling open-ended questions before jumping to conclusion gives that child room to state their case. I will delve more on specific strategies on Part II of this series.
    • When you over reward using prizes/materials based ONLY on good behavior (whatever that means to your household). Chances are, someone would be “listening better, cleaning up faster, taking their naps more often…etc,.” typically there is one child that may be doing great with following all the rules while the other maybe too busy paying attention to any of it. You are human and before you know it, the obedient child will unconsciously turn into the “preferred child.” I love rewarding our children but using prizes all the time reminds the other child that they are the unpreferred child as the reward collection of the preferred child is hard to ignore.  As prizes as rewards are ok in moderation, verbal praises, stoking a child’s head for approval, a pat on the back, a smile, a hug goes a long way.
    • When we fail to teach our children that they too can also be each other’s comfort. If you have 2 or more children, it is likely that one child wants to be cuddled more than the other. Perhaps, your more independent child may not mind seeing their cuddly sibling being hugged and calling mommy’s lap their second home. But What if they do? Cuddles and kisses should be sky’s the limit but if you notice that one child feels left out then it’s time to tweak things a bit. Teaching your upset child to ask help from the other child is a tender thing to watch. You may also coax the other child to ask the crying child, how they can be of help. By doing this, one child does not solely rely on adults for their emotional comfort. They learn to seek out others. The seeker finds comfort and the sought out (the helper) finds confidence in their ability to soothe others.
    • When you keep secrets between you and a particular child, not for the purpose of planning a surprise party but because you want the other child “not to feel bad or jealous. Chances are, there is something to be jealous about, otherwise keeping it a secret wouldn’t be such a big deal. If you use the phrase, “huwag mo na lang sabihin…( just don’t tell your…) often, please observe yourself kindly.
    • When you use one child as a sounding board or an outlet to your emotional distress towards another child. The listening child may be burdened by your ordeal but would quickly recognize that he/she is the preferred child. Therefore , the other child learns that he is the least favored one because just like bad news, his story is always in the front headline cover. The competition that may arise in this scenario might be in the form of passive aggressive behaviors ( ex. Ripping a sibling’s artwork when he’s not looking)  rather than an in-your-face competition.
    • If you use inappropriately the hierarchy of age to resolve issues between siblings, say, you should listen to your ate (older sister) because she knows better type of statement without reasonable explanations why, you may be communicating to the other child that, 1. They don’t know any better, 2. To say yes when someone in authority is asking you to do something but do what you want anyway behind their backs. The competition that may arise here may not always be blatant but it’s building feelings of competition based on scarcity or finding yourself jealous of someone’s success even if you should be happy for them. Sadly, These types of feeling transcends through adulthood.
    • When you intervene too quickly to resolve siblings’ disagreements. You don’t allow them to learn how to resolve conflicts and be comfortable with unpleasant feelings (upset, angry) . you would be surprise what children can do to work out differences. I think, we adults, can learn a thing or two from them. When you intervene too quickly, your tendency is to look for -what’s wrong and who did it. Chill for a couple of minutes. If you are honest, you might be the one that’s more uncomfortable with the whining and want everyone to just shut it. Allowing children to express their feelings shortens the need to express further. If you kept complaining to your spouse that you are overwhelmed with the kids and he just quickly advice you to get a massage (by all means, take the offer, too!)) but doesn’t seem to understand how overwhelmed you are. Chances are, you will find yourself talking about your overwhelm feeling in most of your conversation. Once you’re heard, you release the need to express. Children also operate in this way.

    Please understand if you notice yourself doing any of the above in one occasion or very seldomly, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. It becomes more of a worry if you practice the above as a pattern.

    I know that was a lot of information; I actually can keep going but I’ll stop here for your sanity.

    Thank you for our shared time together. Watch out for Part II on my next post.

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    Sa Uulitin,


    About Roanne

    Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.

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    1. […] This is Part II of this series, you can read Part I here. […]

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