“But Jason always goes first!” Ramona complained. She felt very hurt that Jason would have a shower before her…again! No matter what the reality of the situation is and how fairly the turns are determined, Ramona often felt slighted. This typical situation is just one example of how sibling rivalry might manifest itself. While some everyday quarrels between siblings are normal, sometimes they can turn into a full fledged rivalry. Then what do you do?
Sibling rivalry often emerges when a new baby is born. The attention of parents that was once exclusively the oldest child’s is now shared. It’s understandable that an older child may resent a new sibling. Other times an older child exhibits their feelings about the change by becoming clingy or needy as if to check and see if their parents will still pay attention to them. As children grow, children notice the differences between their abilities and talents and may also perceive differences in their treatment. And so, sibling rivalry can emerge in the infant and toddler stage, but may also develop as children grow.
Luckily, parents can play an important role in helping curb these tendencies, allowing children to grow up free of the stress and anxiety that rivalry can cause. To help you manage this, we’ve pulled together some of the best tips and strategies for handling sibling rivalry:
1. Don’t Compare Your Children
Although it’s tempting to do, it’s best if you can avoid comparing your children. Each child is unique and reacts differently to each situation. When you start comparing your children, it’s easy to begin having unrealistic expectations. For example, just because your first child didn’t have many temper tantrums doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable for your second child to throw tantrums during the toddler stage. These expectations and observations can affect your parenting, even on a subconscious level and help fuel rivalries.
What’s especially important is that your children never hear you comparing them. When your children hear this sort of commentary it can exacerbate already existing rivalries and perceptions of who is favored in the home.
2. Be Empathetic
When your children feel slighted or express their feelings, try to be empathetic. Although it can be hard to hear your child say things like “I wish the baby was never born!” and “You love her more than me,” it’s important to try to understand the root of your child’s feelings. These sorts of commentaries are really just a hurt child expressing that they have an unmet need: principally more time and attention from you.
In response to these sorts of comments, you can reply by re-stating what you’re hearing from your child. For example, you might say “You miss being the only kid at home,” or “You’re feeling left out.” When facing sibling rivalry, your child needs your support as a parent to reassure them that they’re secure in the family, that you love them and that they are valued.
3. Try to Be Fair
Fairness is important to children. They’ll notice minor differences from the size of a slice of cake to who got more presents for their birthday. While it’s unrealistic to be 100% fair all of the time, it’s important to make an effort to be as fair as possible. You can do this by setting up traditions around birthdays and holidays or other special events. For example, you might set up a tradition that on birthdays, each child gets to pick a special meal to make at home. You might also set special birthdays in which you throw a party (at age 5,10 and 15 for example), and then celebrate other birthdays with family only. These sorts of traditions can help eliminate comparisons between treatment of siblings which is typically what fuels rivalries.
4. Plan and Enjoy Special Activities Together and Apart
Psychologists say that in order to maintain a positive relationship, people must counter one negative interaction with five to seven positive interactions. So, plan special activities that your children can enjoy together to build their positive interactions bank. More positive interactions can help improve siblings’ overall relationship. For example, you might plan a day at the swimming pool, baking and decorating cookies, going to a park, enjoying a picnic or something similar. Of course avoid any triggers of rivalries. For example, if one child is better at swimming and this is a sore point, avoid this and pick a different activity where your children are on more even ground.
Your children also crave individual attention from you, the parent! So, make sure your children get special alone time with you. This can be especially important when there’s a newborn at home or if one of your children have special needs. Make sure that you spend quality one on one time with your older or your non-special needs child so that they don’t feel pushed aside. You might even set aside a special “date” time with each of your children every week or month. This can also open up a space for your child to complain or vent about a sibling rivalry situation. Schedule these dates in on your Picniic calendar so you don’t forget!
5. Involve Older Child in Preparing for Baby
The arrival of a new baby is exciting, but can also cause anxiety for your older child or children. Involve older children in preparing and caring for the new baby so that they don’t feel left out. You can also take a chance to remember your older children’s days as an infant by looking at baby pictures and telling stories. This will remind them that they were once the baby that was “ooed” and “aahd” over.
6. Celebrate Gifts of Each Child
It’s easy to get caught up in the achievements of your children. If one child is a soccer star, your other child may feel left out when attending games and tournaments. Make sure your other child’s interests and achievements are also celebrated. Whether that means going to museums related to your child’s interests or celebrating achievements at school with a special meal out, find ways to make sure you celebrate the gifts of all of your children.
7. Encourage Use of Communication Skills
It can be tempting to intervene in your children’s disagreements. However, it’s best if you can avoid getting heavily involved and picking sides. Instead, encourage each of them to use their mediation skills. You might practice role playing and using “I feel” or “I need” phrases with your children separately so that they can develop their communication skills.
Sibling rivalry can be a challenge to handle, but with these strategies, you can minimize the damage and help encourage a more positive relationship. Despite using these strategies, you’ll find that your kids will inevitably have disagreements and fights. This is a normal part of growing up. As parents, you must navigate these disagreement carefully to avoid making already existing rivalries worse! Rather, you’ll want to ensure that disagreements are learning experiences that help your children learn to deal with conflict in a healthy way.
The good news is that by using these strategies you can help foster sibling relationships that result in lifelong friendships.
Are you an experienced parent? Share your tips for handling sibling rivalry with us in the comments below!