“Sibling rivalry.” We’ve all heard of it. If we have more than one child, we’ve probably witnessed it. “My sibling is my best friend.” We’ve heard that too. Some of us have experienced it with our own siblings. How do we get our kids to go from rivals to friends, or to at least getting along? Every child and relationship are different, but there are some methods that can help siblings get along and help your children generally learn about sharing, empathy, compassion, and respect.
Set the stage with your child before the new arrival is even there.
- If you are pregnant, let your child feel the baby kick and put their head on your belly to sing or talk to the baby.
- If you are adopting, let your child in on the process as much as possible in age and developmentally appropriate ways.
- Talk with your child about all the excitement there was when they first arrived. Show them their baby photos.
- Explain to your child about their important role of being the older sibling and that you will still love them always.
When the Baby Arrives
Things will be hectic with a new baby. The reality is you probably won’t be able to be as attentive to your older child as much as you were before the new baby came. You can, however, make sure your child is getting what they need to feel valued and lessen possible jealousy of the new child.
- Have them be your helper. Let them know how important their help is. Even a young child can help get clean diapers.
- Give them special responsibilities not related to the baby. They’ll see who they are as individuals and what they do is important. It will build self-esteem.
- If the baby gets gifts, have your older child open them and be first to check out the new rattle.
- Encourage people to provide a small gift for your older child to congratulate them on becoming an older sibling.
- When people admire the baby, make sure to add that you have two beautiful children.
- You may not have as much time as you used to, but find time just for you and your older child every day. Even 15 minutes with a favorite book or puzzle is meaningful and gives your child some special time to look forward to.
- You may not have as much time, but grandparents, extended family or other adults can spend more time with your child and create special memories.
- Create special time for the whole family together! With the baby in a sling, put on some music and everyone dances.
Sharing and Caring
As your children get older, new sibling issues will arise.
- Encourage your children to take turns with toys, books, a room or more.
- Allow your child to have a toy or book they don’t want to share. Is there a stuffed animal they don’t want a younger sibling to touch? Can it be kept out of reach of a younger sibling?
- Create fun times together where cooperation makes a difference. Make cookies together where each sibling has a special task.
- Time doesn’t always have to be shared. Children can have together and separate time, especially important to children such as those who are introverted and need time by themselves.
Cultivate “sharing” by caring about each other’s feelings. Caring in this way will help your children when conflict does arise and teach empathy not only for each other but for others too.
- When one child takes a tumble and starts to cry, encourage their sibling to comfort them.
- Have your child help you out when you put a band-aid on their sibling’s “owwy.”
No matter what you do, conflicts will happen – they do in all relationships and siblings are no different.
- Set limits. If limits are broken give clear, firm and calm reminders:
- “These are the toys we said we would share. Your special toy is on your bed.”
- “We don’t use our hands for hitting; we use our words to say not now.”
- Have children try to solve their own smaller conflicts. You can provide some help and remind them of the limits.
- “Can you figure out how to take turns with the different colored crayons? I’ll set the timer for three minutes for you to find a solution.”
- “If you can’t figure out how to share, crayons will go away for this afternoon.”
Each Child is Special
Treating each child exactly the same is not a way to avoid sibling rivalry and can even provoke it. Children are at different ages and stages and have different personalities. Let children know that sometimes you need more, and sometimes their sibling needs more. Sometimes you even need to take turns with parents. Here are some possible questions and responses:
- Why did my sister get a backpack and I didn’t?
- She needs it to carry her books to school. You get to stay home with me. When you go to school, you can have a backpack.
- Why do we have to watch a baby video?
- Your sister loves it and she gets to pick now. You like different videos. You get to choose what to watch after she goes to sleep.
- Why can’t I listen to music now?
- Your brother has to concentrate on his homework. You get to pick out what music to listen to later when he’s finished.
For better or worse, and there are times of each, siblings are in each other’s lives. Start from the beginning to build healthy, loving and respectful relationships. Use those inevitable conflicts as opportunities for your children to develop empathy and problem-solving skills. And make sure they have fun special times with each other and with you. You will help create memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! contact us here.
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