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2009-09-10 digital edition

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2009-09-10 / Church

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Jealousy Often the Cause of Sibling Rivalry

Question: Why do my kids have to fight all the time? I have three of them and they drive me crazy. Why can't they be nice to each other?

Dr. Dobson: Good question! All I can tell you is that sibling rivalry has been going on for a long time. 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. The underlying source of this conflict is old-fashioned jealousy and competition between children. Marguerite and Willard Beecher, writing in their book "Parents on the Run," expressed the inevitability of this struggle as follows:

"It was once believed that if parents would explain to a child that he was having a little brother or sister, he would not resent it. He was told that his parents had enjoyed him so much that they wanted to increase their happiness. This was supposed to avoid jealous competition and rivalry. It did not work. Why should it? Needless to say, if a man tells his wife he has loved her so much that he now plans to bring another wife into the home to 'increase his happiness,' she would not be immune to jealousy. On the contrary, the fight would just begin — in exactly the same fashion as it does with children."

Question: I have observed that elementary and junior high school students — even high schoolers — tend to admire the more strict teachers. Common sense would tell us that they would like those who were easier on them. Why do you think they are drawn to the disciplinarians?

Dr. Dobson: You are right; teachers who maintain order and demand the most from their students are often the most respected members of the faculty, provided they aren't mean and grouchy. One who can control a class without being unpleasant is almost always esteemed by her students. That is true, first of all, because there is safety in order. When a class is out of control, particularly at the elementary school level, the children are afraid of each other. If the teacher can't make the class behave, how can she prevent a bully from doing his thing? How can she keep the students from laughing at one of the less-able members? Children can be vicious to each other, and they feel good about having a teacher who is strong but kind.

Second, children love justice. When someone has violated a rule, they want immediate retribution. They admire the teacher who can enforce an equitable legal system, and they find great comfort in reasonable social expectations. By contrast, the teacher who does not control her class inevitably allows crime to pay, violating something basic in the value system of children.

Third, children admire strict teachers because chaos is nervewracking. Screaming and hitting and wiggling are fun for about ten minutes; then the confusion begins to get tiresome and irritating.

I have smiled in amusement many times as second- and thirdgrade children astutely evaluated the relative disciplinary skills of their teachers. They know how a class should be conducted. I only wish all of their teachers were equally aware of this important attribute.

Question: After reading several excellent books on parenting, I see now that I've been doing many things wrong with my children. Can I undo the harm?

Dr. Dobson: I doubt if it is too late to do things right, although your ability to influence your children lessens with the passage of time. Fortunately we are permitted to make many mistakes with our kids. They are resilient, and they usually survive most of our errors in judgment. It's a good thing they do, because none of us can be a perfect parent. Besides, it's not the occasional mistakes that hurt a child — it is the consistent influence of destructive conditions throughout childhood that does the damage.

Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995

(www.focusonthefamily.org).

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