We all want our children to be the best of friends. But that doesn’t always happen easily. And when your children don’t get along, it can be very exhausting and stressful. If you’re worried about sibling rivalry, you’re not alone.
Sibling rivalry is described as jealousy, fighting, or conflicts between brothers and sisters. If your children are the same gender (both boys or both girls) or are less than 2 years apart, you are more likely to experience some form of sibling rivalry. And not all disagreements between children are bad. It’s within these conflicts that children learn the kind of give and take necessary to get along in the world. Solving problems without violence or using words that hurt can be productive. But when children don’t get along, it can make parenting a real challenge.
Parenting one child is easy enough, your attention is focused on the needs of your child and they have what they need when they need it whether that’s attention, a meal, or assistance performing tasks. But when you have a second child, a new set of challenges appears. Now your attention is bound to be divided because the new baby or child also needs looking after.
There are steps you can take to help curb sibling rivalry even before your new child arrives. Reading books about having a new brother or sister, talking about how the new sibling will take mom and dad’s time and reassuring your child that you still love them just as much as before will really help. Help your child understand that you’ll all be working together to take care of the new child.
Once the new baby or child arrives, you can let the older child help with the new arrival. Praise all positive interactions between the children using phrases like, “I liked how you shared your bear with your brother.” And, when possible, set aside time to spend with just the older child to show he or she still holds a special place in your heart. This can be as simple as private storytime or mommy and me trip to the park.
Even the best of preparations won’t prevent all instances of conflict.
You may see instances of arguing or physical fighting, frustration, tattling, and demanding attention in younger children. Older children may have more arguing over everything from friends to bathroom time. Allowing children time to try and work through non-physical disagreements themselves will help them learn to manage conflict as they get older. And parents can’t force children to get along. But there are steps you can take to help manage sibling rivalry.
Start by listening to each child. Allow each child to be heard fully without the other child interrupting. Then ask the children how they would suggest solving the problem. You might be surprised at how they are able to figure things out themselves when someone listens.
Set and keep ground rules when it comes to disagreements. By being consistent about what you will tolerate you’ll be helping children to learn boundaries. For example, you’ll allow the children to express frustration and to argue but not to become physical. You might let them use words to disagree but not yelling. Part of this comes from modeling disagreements with the other adults in your life. As children see or hear you disagree with others, they learn how to manage themselves better.
Be careful how you refer to your children. Using words like “the athletic one” or the “wild child” makes other children who are not in those categories feel unequal which results in jealousy. And jealousy is one of the main reasons for sibling rivalry.
Set your children up for having peaceful interactions. If you think about the way adults share, they don’t grab things from their spouses or coworkers, they simply ask “when you’re done with the phone, may I use it?” And the response usually, “Yes.” Teach your children the same interactions, instead of demanding that their brother or sister share, teach them to ask “when you’re done with . . . may I have it.” This will actually end a lot of fighting over things.
Whatever you do, when your children are having problems getting along, don’t take sides. Instead, when everyone is calm, just listen to each child’s version of what happened and help them find a way to work things out. “What is another way you can respond to your brother or sister?” is a good phrase to use. With younger children, you may need to put a toy into time out to keep from appearing to take sides.
Handling the fighting between children isn’t easy. It takes patience and wisdom. Being able to handle differences with other people is a skill even some adults haven’t learned. But if you help your children work at it, they will be much better prepared as they grow older.