Sibling Rivalry can be a Source of Anxiety for Parents

There is strength in unity. Boating in North Glenmore Park, Calgary. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
There is strength in unity. Boating in North Glenmore Park, Calgary. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“Siblings that say they never fight are most definitely hiding something,” says novelist Lemony Snicket.

If you look at it in a positive way, sibling rivalry is a type of competition. It can be a healthy rivalry. If it goes in a negative way then rivalry creates animosity and nightmare for parents.

There are several factors involved in how the siblings bond. Siblings generally spend more time together during childhood than they do with parents. As they grow the relationship is often complicated and is influenced by factors such as parental treatment, birth order, personality, and people and experiences outside the family.

If the children are very close in age and of the same gender and/or where one or both children are intellectually gifted then the relationship can be complicated.

Listening to your children fight with each other can be frustrating. As parents what can you do to create harmony? Problem comes when parents start taking sides. Things become more difficult if you have more than two children.

So I did some reading to see what the experts have to say. Here is the summary:

  1. Accept the fact that if you have more than one child there is going to be sibling rivalry. If the rivalry is healthy then it creates healthy, smart, happy family.
  2. Parents should learn to know when and how to intervene when siblings have a conflict. Taking sides is totally unnecessary and can be counter productive. You cannot have one favourite child out of two or more children you have.
  3. Parents should remember sibling rivalry typically develops as siblings compete for their parents’ love and respect. That is natural part of growing up. Rivalry also depends on children’s age, sex and personality, the size of the family, whether it’s a blended family, and each child’s position in it.
  4. As children grow parents find out that each child has unique habits and needs although they have genes from the same parents. Learn to respect each child’s unique needs.
  5. Parents have a tendency to compare their children’s achievements and disappointments. Avoid comparisons. Comparing your children’s abilities can make them feel hurt and insecure. Each child is born with unique gifts. Parents should learn to understand this and nurture them.
  6. Parents should learn to listen to their children. They should encourage their children to talk to each other and learn to understand and appreciate each other’s successes and failures. Family dinners also provide opportunities for talking and listening.
  7. Never forget to compliment your children when they behave well, have success in their endeavors, are playing well together or working as a team. Encourage good behavior.
  8. Show your love. Spend time alone with each of your children. Do special activities with each child that reflects his or her interests. Remind your children that you are there for them and they can talk about anything with you.

I am sure there is more to parenting than just eight points mentioned here. I feel the most important point is to give each child unconditional love. They will never forget that. I am sure they will pass that unconditional love to their children.

Long live good parenting.

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Eat Fruits and Vegetables to Produce Healthier Sperm

A sperm fertilizing an egg. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
A sperm fertilizing an egg. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

A study published in Fertility and Sterility reported men who consume a high amount of certain nutrients may produce healthier sperm than men who do not. The study also found this effect to be more pronounced in older men.

Dr. Andrew Wyrobeck and his colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California determined dietary micronutrient intake among 80 individuals aged 22 to 80 years. Examples of micronutrients are vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc. These nutrients are required by the body in small quantities for a whole range of physiological functions. The human body does not produce these micronutrients. Sperms from these individuals were also analysed.

The study found men with a higher intake of vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, and zinc produced sperm that had significantly less DNA damage than men who consumed lower amounts. Analysis showed that older men with an intake below that of the population’s median levels for vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc (but not β-carotene or folate) had significantly more sperm DNA damage compared with all other groups, including older men with above median intakes.

What does this mean? It means older men who are planning to father a child in the near future should start eating a healthy diet if they are not doing so already. Older fathers, with DNA-damaged sperm, may be contributing to the increasing rates of autism, schizophrenia and other diseases among children and adolescents.

Researchers say consuming micronutrients such as vitamin C, E, folate and zinc helps turn back the clock for older men. The analysis revealed that men older than 44 who consumed the most vitamins and micronutrients had 20 per cent less sperm DNA damage compared to men their own age who consumed the fewest nutrients.

In younger men, a higher intake of micronutrients didn’t improve the quality of the DNA in their sperm. The benefit was observed solely among the older men. But, of course, they are the ones most vulnerable to sperm DNA damage – and therefore have the most to gain from an improved diet.

Future studies are needed to determine whether increased antioxidant intake in older fathers will improve fertility, reduce risks for genetically defective pregnancies, and result in healthier children, concludes the team.

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Did You Get The Right Toilet Training?

A kid learning to sit on a toilet. (Comstock/Thinkstock)
A kid learning to sit on a toilet. (Comstock/Thinkstock)

When I hear about toilet training, I wonder if I got the “right” toilet training when I was growing up in a small town in Tanzania. My parents did not have the books which modern mothers have to guide them. We did not have the public health care system to help young mothers at home.

By the time I was born, my mother already had five children. So I am sure she knew what to do. My role in toilet training my children was to listen to my wife and follow her advice. “Mother knows best” is my mantra when I don’t know what to do. When I have to rush to work or to golf course then, of course, “mother knows best” works quite well. Sometimes it can back fire.

Ok, let us not digress. My eyes lit up the other day when I looked at the recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ March 20, 2012). There is commentary titled, “Toilet training children: when to start and how to train.” It is written by Dr. Darcie A. Kiddoo, who is with the Divisions of Pediatric Surgery and Urology, Department of Surgery, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alta.

So I said to myself, here is something scientific to tell me how to toilet train my grandchildren.

Dr. Kiddoo says, “Toilet training is felt to be a natural process that occurs with development, yet very little scientific information is available for the physicians who care for children. In reality, toilet training is a complex process that can be affected by anatomic, physiologic and behavioural conditions.”

Over the last 100 years, there have been many ways of toilet training our children. This varies from passive and lacking in structure, to coercive and regimented, to child-oriented and semistructured, says the article.

In 1962 Brazelton developed a “child readiness” approach, which was child-focused and unregimented. The children started training at 18 months of age, and, daytime continence was achieved by a mean age of 28.5 months.

Spock discussed toilet training in Baby and Child Care, published in 1968. His approach was similar to Brazelton’s. He was opposed to absolute rules that could result in behavioural problems.

Since then many methods have been described. These are: structured and parent-oriented, the very early approach of assisted toilet training in infants when the infant is two to three weeks of age, then there are other approaches which involve both positive and negative reinforcements.

Many studies have been published but none providing any definitive answer to the question – What is the best way to toilet train your child?

Despite the lack of evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend a child-oriented approach based on expert opinion. They advise starting when the child is 18 months of age and suggest that the child must be interested in the process, says the CMAJ article.

If you toilet train your child later (more than 18 months of age) then there is a higher incidence of incontinence and urinary tract infections. Some experts have concluded that toilet training at a younger age (18 to 26 months) was associated with a longer training interval but no adverse events. But have no fear or sense of guilt, because there isn’t a final word written on this subject.

Three things to remember:
-Toilet training should be started when both the child and parent are willing and able to participate.
-A positive, consistent approach to toilet training is unlikely to cause long-term harm.
-Mother knows best.

Well, I wish your children happy “pooping.”

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Can you blame problems of the child on the parents?

As a parent, do you blame yourself if your child does not grow up to your expectation? I am no expert on the subject but a recent article in American Scientific Mind asked, “Do parents matter?” made me do some research on the subject.

It all started with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), a Viennese doctor, who stressed the importance of childhood events and experiences. Freud blamed the problems of the child on the parents. He was especially hard on mothers. According to Freud, child development is described as a series of psychosexual stages. He outlined these stages as oral, anal, phallic, latency period and genital. Each stage involves the satisfaction of a libidinal desire and can later play a role in adult personality.

Since then much research has been done on child development and this has yielded many
theories on children’s mental, emotional, and social development. The debate continues as researchers try to find answers to many questions.

The article I referred to earlier is based on an interview done by the American Scientific Mind with Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do. The book was published 10 years ago. In the book Harris argues that parents matter much less, at least when it comes to determining the behavior of their children, than is typically assumed. Instead, Harris argued that a child’s peer group is far more important.

Harris says in the interview, “One of the reasons of writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job, that there are many different ways to rear a child, and no convincing evidence that one way produces better results than another.”

Harris also says that most developmental psychologists still do not agree with her, but they are acknowledging that there’s another point of view.

Harris says that there is a greater awareness of genetic influences on personality. Personality is the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual. It’s no longer enough to show, for example, that parents who are conscientious about childrearing tend to have children who are conscientious about their schoolwork. She asks, “Is this correlation due to what the children learned from their parents or to the genes they inherited from them?”

According to Harris, there are three different mental modules involved in social development. The first deals with relationships, including parent-child relationships. The second handles socialization. A stage where a child’s behavior becomes more similar to that of their same-sex peers. The third enables children to work out a successful strategy for competing with their peers, by figuring out what they are good at.

Harris says she has put together a lot of evidence showing that children learn at home how to behave at home (that’s where parents do have power!), and they learn outside the home how to behave outside the home. So if you want to improve the way children behave in school for instance, by making them more diligent and less disruptive in the classroom, then improving their home environment is not the way to do it. What you need is a school-based intervention. That’s where teachers have power. A talented teacher can influence a whole group of kids, says Harris.

Some readers of the article argued that Harris’s theory just encourages irresponsible parenting by shifting the onus on the child’s peers and teachers. One reader questioned the effects of television on child development.

So, are you any wiser today than you were before? As a parent, do you have a magic (or any) formula to raise a child? How was your upbringing? Who influenced you the most to be what you are today? How did that influence you to raise your children? Interesting questions, eh!

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