Sibling Sanity

Teaching Siblings to Love Each Other

“She’s copying me!”

on July 21, 2014

It’s a stage that every sibling group has to struggle through: the copying stage. Parents dread it; kids freak out over it; siblings use it to tease, tattle, and control.

By age 5 or 6, children view those who copy negatively. To the one being copied, copying can feel different to children than it does to adults. If you or I were copied by someone, we would be flattered (until it turned creepy). But kids are often offended, exasperated and frustrated by being copied.

Especially girls.

So what’s at work here? One theory is that children see copying as stealing. The theory is that children across all cultures reach a certain developmental stage at which they view copying as stealing their ideas, preferences, actions, etc.

So if your child is being driven up the wall about being copied, here are some ways of reframing it for her:

  • Tell her that this is how her younger siblings learn. Explain that it’s part of being an older sibling, that she copied others when she was that age, and that it will pass soon. In the meantime, challenge her: “Are you a good teacher?”
  • Take the child’s focus off herself. Ask questions about why the copying bothers her. You’ll soon hear words like “me,” “mine,” and “my.” Help her to see that life is not all about her. Not even her life. She is here to know and love God and to bless others.
  • Teach her to be compassionate toward others.
  • Tell her that this is a test to see if she can “keep her side of the street clean” even when her “neighbors” have trash all over theirs.
  • Show her Jesus’ example; that He forgave those who hurt Him, even while they were still doing it, that He prayed for others when what He had to do was very difficult, that he taught us to love others, even when they’re not being lovable, that He obeyed the Father, even when others around Him were doing just as they pleased.
  • In today’s reality TV “age of outrage,” it’s important to teach children to be respectful to others even if they’re not being respectful to her. This goes along with teaching children to act according to values, not feelings.
  • Help her learn that being patient is a kind of courage. If we want to build courage, we have to exercise it often, and being copied is a great way to use patience to build courage.
  • Explain that copying is sometimes a way for children to entertain themselves. Sometimes, it is done to tease and provoke, especially if the target is easily provoked. Children have a hard time understanding that someone can only tease you if you participate by getting angry at their actions. Help your child to ignore or be kind to those who tease.

What about the copier? Here are some suggestions:

  • When you’re in the midst of a copying/tattling cycle, separate the children. Without deciding who’s the villain and who’s the victim (which can set a child up for a lifetime of seeking reward for being a victim), just tell them, “Since you two can’t get along, you’re not going to be allowed to play together.” Then sit them in separate chairs without a book or toy until it dawns on them that getting along is a lot more fun that pestering one another.
  • Explain to the copycat that when their copying is frustrating to someone and they continue to do it, that’s teasing, and teasing is not tolerated in your family.
  • Turn it into a game. If you think that you can deflect the copying before it causes a meltdown, jump in an play “Mother May I?” or “Simple Simon” or some other game that requires copying someone.
  • If the copycat is copying undesirable behavior, clarify what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t, be sure she understands, and then provide consequences when she copies something she knows is unacceptable.
  • Talk to your little copycat about what’s unique and different about her. Help her to see that she’s not a defective version of an older sibling, but a unique child that God planned before He even created the universe, that she is unique in all of human history, and that she does not need to be like someone else. This is not the same as self-absorption, which is damaging and encouraged all over our culture. It’s helping the child to see her worth in the eyes of God, and then to honor Him by respecting instead of teasing.


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