Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
Do you know what happens when you have more than one swimmer in the family? One of them is bound to be faster, more talented, or more dedicated and achieve more success than their siblings. I talked with moms who have two to four kids in competitive swimming and asked them how they deal with sibling rivalry.
In my own family, our younger child was faster. It astonished me that my two kids were competitive with each other—especially when they are such different people with different talents. One experienced success in the pool while the other received accolades in school and music. I never appreciated teachers who would compare them in the classroom and I’m thankful their swim coaches worked with them as individuals.
Here are some stories swim moms told me about sibling rivalry:
One mom said there was a lot of competition between her two girls, who are two years apart, especially in the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups. At one championship meet, the younger child beat the older in the 100 breast. It took the older child a couple days to process that her little sister had beat her. From then on, if they were in the same heat, the younger child would never beat her older sister. Finally, the older sister realized what was going on and told her little sister that she needed to swim her best, even if it meant beating her.
Twin sons also were competitive but one always beat the other. It wasn’t until high school that the twin who always won, got beat. It was a tough day for him and he wanted to leave the meet. His mom said she talked to him about giving up or using the moment to push through and swim faster. This son became less interested in swimming as a defense mechanism and swam other events so he wouldn’t have to compete head to head with his brother. By the time the senior year came around, he became very supportive and proud of his twin’s success.
Another mother has two boys two years apart. Their hardest moment was at a high school championship meet when the older son broke the high school record during prelims. Then the younger son broke that record during consolation finals. The mom said it “messed them up badly.” It turned out the younger son had been holding back all season long, so he wouldn’t beat his brother.
According to the mom, the parents don’t compare them—the boys do. One is naturally more athletic and the other has to work really hard. She said the younger child got a lot more attention from peers for his swimming. As parents they tried to compensate for that, which might not be the best thing to do. Her sons are now supportive of each other and the competition between them is good and pushes them. They have the same times in three strokes. She and her husband brought up how individually they are strong but together as brothers they are united in the pool against the competition. That took the “sting” out of it and they’ve gotten closer.
Here are four ways parents can help their children deal with sibling rivalry:
Praise effort, not performance.
Try not to focus too much on one swimmer’s success. If we emphasize effort, that will help our kids understand that hard work is something we value and it will help them persevere when times get tough.
Avoid comparing siblings.
Our swimmers’ peers make comparisons and our children will, too. They know who is faster and who’s more talented. If we treat them as individuals and not make them feel it’s one against the other, we’ll help alleviate the sibling rivalry.
Recognize if you’re playing favorites.
It’s hard not to get enthusiastic over big time drops or one child making it to the next level. We need to spread our support and joy to other talents and activities like music or dance, even if we’re more excited about swimming.
Keep the competition in the pool.
The competition may help them push each other to get better, but once they are home, they need to take a breather. Make sure your kids know they are on the same team in and out of the pool.
What stories do you have about sibling rivalry and how do you make it better?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.