| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

How to cope with sibling rivalry

Squabbling siblings are all part of family life, but is there anything we parents can do to stop it?

Debate team

• Originally from Ireland, former  teaching assistant, Noreen O’loughlin is mum to daughter Eirean, aged eight, and son Daire, who is 10. The family has lived in Dubai since 2000.

• Anne Marpole is a lactation consultant and midwife at the Infinity Clinic and also runs classes for parents and kids on the arrival of a new sibling. Originally from South Africa, she has lived in Dubai for 13 years and is mum to Gavin, aged 12 and Nicole, 10.

• Catherine Craig is from New Zealand and has three children, Jack, eight, Alexandra, six and Lily, aged two. She is CFO of a construction company and has lived in Dubai for 10 years.

• Founder of PURE Fitness, which runs fitness classes for mums and mums-to-be, Elaine Luck came to Dubai three years ago. She has two children, Cameron, 11 and Rebecca, nine and is originally from Scotland.

What got us talking…

Are your kids comrades in adversity but sworn enemies the rest of the time? Or are they the best of friends and true companions? Perhaps they defend each other to the hilt at school but just can’t say a kind word to each other at home? Are girls worse than boys when it comes to being competitive? While every family is different, all parents agree that our offspring can be ghastly to each other when they are growing up. We caught up with four mums at Urbano in Souk Al Bahar, and talked tactics over tea and cupcakes.

Do your children fight a lot?
Catherine: They didn’t initially – but I’m getting it more now as they get older. And it’s really because they are a boy and a girl and they want to do different things, which causes them to clash. But you can’t expect them to get on all the time.

Noreen: You know that saying, ‘You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends?’ It’s so true. I come from a family of six children and all of us have very different personalities. Some siblings you have more of a connection with than others – it’s just natural. My kids get on – but they argue at times too – and they need to do that. It’s perfectly normal.

I think it’s important to have sibling rivalry as kids because it teaches you how to get on with other people. You have to learn to fit in as a family. You don’t always get on with people in the work environment and sibling rivalry helps you work through those issues so you can cope later on in life.

Anne: My kids have a two-year gap and I’m lucky because they seem to get on really well. But we have a system where we use the calendar to make sure everything is fair. One day my daughter gets her TV programmes, and the next day, my son gets his. We use the same system for setting the table, who gets their bath first etc. And it seems to work.

Elaine: We use that too. We actually have a whiteboard by the back door that tells us who’s done what, otherwise we end up spending ages deciphering whose turn it is to do something!

Anne: But another very valuable lesson we learned was that you have to treat each child’s needs individually and not compare them. That has helped us a lot. Ultimately, they may be siblings, but they do have different strengths and interests, and you can’t always treat them in the same way. Acknowledging that has made life easier.

Did you experience much sibling rivalry as a child?
Noreen: Oh yes! But then I was the youngest of six kids. I had four older brothers and a sister, who was two years older than me. My sister was the daddy’s girl because she was the daughter my parents finally got after having four boys. And I came after that. My brothers took me under their wing and turned me into a tomboy. And I loved that! My sister and I used to fight an awful lot, over everything – but my brothers were the instigators behind a lot of it.

Elaine: My husband is one of six kids, and when we first met, we had this discussion about how we ate dinner. I’d always save the best until last, and he’d always eat the best bit first. And I asked him why that was and he said it was because in his house, if you wanted to eat the best bit, you had to get it down quickly or someone else would nick it off your plate!

Noreen: That’s so true! (Laughs.) You learnt to eat like this! (cowers over her plate with her arms around it protectively). I remember when I first brought my husband over to our house for dinner before we were married – and he was in awe. He nicknamed us The Mansons!

Even though I’m one of five kids, there’s a big age gap between me and my older siblings, so I had the best of both worlds. I got the big family get-togethers and older brother and sisters – but I didn’t have to compete with them for anything and I had lots of attention from my parents. I lived in this happy little bubble. Although the older ones did complain and said I’d had more than they had done etc, I never felt upset about it because they were right, I did have everything and that was great!

Anne: I have a brother who is 14 years younger who I never fought with, and another who is three years younger than me who teased me mercilessly. I think he was jealous because I was quite academic and he wasn’t – but at times it was horrendous. He had curly hair, and out of sheer frustration, I used to grab hold of it and hit his head against a wall! But now we get on like a house on fire and I love spending time with him.

Elaine: I was the jealous one. I was awful to my older sister, even though we’re best mates now. If she had boyfriend round I’d run into the room and shout ‘Bleurh!’ or stand in front of the telly deliberately so they couldn’t see it. I was the archetypal annoying little sister. At school she was very clever, sporty, and competitive. What I found difficult as the younger child was the fact that I wasn’t just Elaine, I was always ‘Josie’s sister’. I remember being made to play the same position in hockey as my sister because she was good at it. Ultimately, jealousy and wanting to be recognised as a person in my own right was behind it all.

By Joanna England
Time Out Dubai,

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