Sunday, October 25, 2009

Learning Disabilities and Sibling Relationships - 10 Rules to Avoid Rivalry

It is natural for some degree of sibling rivalry to exist in any family. However, families containing a child with a learning disability run a far higher risk of rivalry, given that the learning-disabled child consumes a lot more of the parent's attention. Here are ten rules to stave off rivalry:

1. Read the book Children: The Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs, M.D. The book is based on the theory of "logical consequences" and helps with almost any behavioral issue. When my kids were young, I kept it at my bedside so it was available at a moment's notice.

2. Let your children know that a sibling relationship is to be cherished. Friends may come and go, but a sister is always a sister.

3. Let your children settle their own petty squabbles. Tell them you trust that together they can come to a fair resolution (self-fulfilling prophecy). Interfere only if the disagreement becomes physical.

4. Make it apparent you value each child's opinions.

5. Never compare siblings (at least not within earshot). Although you may be tempted, never say, "I wish you were neat like your sister", etc. This only instills resentment and promotes rivalry.

6. When you are alone with each child, say something positive regarding how he/she related to a sibling (i.e. "You were so kind to your brother- I saw how generously you shared your toys. Justin certainly is lucky to have a brother like you." Or, "I admired the way you dealt with Sara and compromised when you were arguing. Sara is certainly fortunate to have you as an older role model."

7. Encourage a positive relationship by eliciting a child's help with a sibling. For example, you might say "Can you please come with me and wheel Jason in the stroller while I walk the dog? I know he likes when you do that, and I love when you help me."

8. Find a talent in each child to compliment in front of family or friends. Be careful to do this equally for each sibling. To avoid rivalry, you need to let each child know they are appreciated and loved for their individuality. If everyone were alike, the world would be a boring place.

9. When the time is right, be honest with your children about a sister's or brother's difficulties. You might say, "Although Anna is smart, she learns differently than you do. Everyone has different strengths. When you play Scrabble, it's unkind to laugh at her when she misspells a word."

10. Try to have fun together as a family and laugh as often as you can. In our family, we used to play a game in the car called "Who Would Say This?" Each person thought of something unique that another family member typically says. For example, "Who would say, 'Get those blankety-blank roller skates out of the hallway. I almost killed myself!'"

These suggestions are not meant to imply that your kids will never argue or cause you to lose your cool. But be careful what you say when tension arises. Once words are spoken, they cannot be taken back. Children imitate what they see. If parents set the standards of respect and kindness within the family and find the positive in each child, your children will likely to do the same with each other.

There is a lot more to learn about achieving success in college with a learning disability. If you would like more information, please go to and sign up for a free copy of "Learning Disabilities: 10 Tips for High School Students with College Aspirations".

Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED is an expert college Learning Specialist and most recently worked in this capacity at a local community college. She has nearly 35 years of experience working with students with LD/ADD. Joan currently teaches "Conquer College with LD/ADD" online in webinar format. You can read more about Joan's course at

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