As any parent of more than one child can tell you, myself included, sibling rivalry can be a very stressful time in the life of a young family but it is a natural part of growing up in a family with multiple children.
Although it may seem like a harmless part of childhood, unchecked sibling rivalry can lead to long-lasting issues in the family dynamic. As a parent, it’s essential to foster a healthy environment for your children to grow and develop strong bonds.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore practical strategies to ease sibling rivalry and promote a harmonious family life.
Table of Contents
What is Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling rivalry is a term used to describe the competition, jealousy, and conflict that can occur between brothers and sisters. Factors contributing to sibling rivalry include age differences, personality clashes, competition for attention, and a perceived sense of inequality.
It’s important to recognize that sibling rivalry is a normal part of child development, but it’s crucial to address and manage it effectively to avoid long-term negative consequences.
Practical Steps to Prevent Sibling Rivalry
1) Start Before Little Brother or Sister Arrives
Conversation can be very helpful as a start. Talk openly with your child when you first discover you’re pregnant. Talk about what is happening in the family unit, why mommy’s belly is getting so big or why there is new furniture coming into the house, maybe even into their room.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I even took my oldest along to prenatal doctor visits and let her hear the baby’s heartbeat, which seemed to create a bond right away.
Include them in simple decision-making, like deciding between two names for baby or minor decorating decisions in the nursery. Reading books can be an effective way to begin talking about a new baby and about becoming a big brother or big sister. Here are a few books to look for:
- Bella’s New Baby, A Little Golden Book, by Sue Fliess
- Grover Takes Care of Baby, A Little Golden Book, by Emily Thompson
- The Berenstain Bears – New Baby, by Stan & Jan Berenstain
When a new baby is about to enter the family, it raises serious concerns for a child of any age. He or she may feel threatened, afraid that mommy and daddy may not love them or have time for them anymore.
Some children feel resentment towards the new baby to the point of wanting to cause the baby harm. Toddlers may revert back to wanting a bottle if they have given it up, or, if they’re potty-trained, may want to again wear a diaper. Other young children may talk like a baby for attention. This is all normal regressive behavior, but if it goes on too long, or becomes a major concern to you, talk with your pediatrician for professional advice on how to best handle the situation.
2. Continue to Make it Special After Baby Arrives
There are things you can do to help your child adjust to having a new baby around the house. You could have a “Big Sister” or “Big Brother” party with cake and candles in their honor. Older siblings can feel left out or not important when they see the baby getting all the gifts and attention.
If they’re old enough, let them know how important their help will be with the new baby. Explain the ways you will count on them to help you with bottle feeding, diaper changing, bath time, and even bedtime stories.
Strategies to Ease Sibling Rivalry
Despite our best efforts, sibling rivalry happens. Below are several practical strategies you can use to ease sibling rivalry and promote a harmonious family life.
1. Create a Fair Environment
A primary source of sibling rivalry is the perception of unfair treatment. Parents can help ease tensions by establishing a sense of equality within the household. Ensure that all children receive equal resources, encouragement, and opportunities to express themselves.
Avoid comparing siblings, as this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment.
2. Spend On-on-One Time When Possible
If sibling rivalry is occurring, it can often help a lot to begin setting aside individual time for each child on a regular basis. During these times, be sure to let them know how special they are and how much you appreciate their help.
This isn’t of course easy, especially with young children, but it doesn’t have to be long stretches of time. For example, while the new baby is sleeping, you can play or read with the other child. No mater the length of time, just make sure to give them your undivided attention, so they will feel loved and secure.
3. Strengthen Family Bonds:
Creating a strong family bond is crucial in reducing sibling rivalry. Schedule regular family activities that promote togetherness, such as game nights, movie nights, or family outings.
Encourage open communication within the family and create an environment where all members feel valued and included.
4. Celebrate Each Child’s Uniqueness
Each child is unique, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Encourage your children to explore and develop their individuality. By supporting their passions and celebrating their achievements, you’ll help reduce the need for sibling competition and comparison.
Be sure to praise your child for his or her uniqueness, strengths, accomplishments, and efforts.
5. Encourage Teamwork
Fostering a sense of teamwork and cooperation between young siblings close in age is essential in reducing rivalry.
Create opportunities for your children to work together on projects, chores, or activities. This collaboration will help them appreciate each other’s strengths and contributions, while also developing valuable problem-solving and communication skills.
6. Teach Conflict Resolution
Conflicts between siblings are inevitable, but teaching your children how to resolve them effectively is key to maintaining harmony.
When a conflict happens, call a time-out from play for them both to cool off. Once everyone is calm call them back to discuss the situation. These are the times when you will need wisdom and patience to determine how best to seek justice for all injured parties. Encourage open communication and active listening, ensuring that each child has the opportunity to express their feelings and concerns.
Though they are young, you can still help your children develop empathy by asking them to how they would feel in their sibling’s shoes and giving them ways they could compromise or resolve the situation.
7. Establish Boundaries
Establishing clear boundaries between siblings is essential in maintaining a peaceful household.
Encourage respect for one another’s privacy, possessions, and personal space. Teach young children about sharing and teach your older children to ask for permission before entering their sibling’s room or using their belongings.
8. Seek Professional Help When Necessary
If sibling rivalry becomes persistent and affects the overall family dynamic, it may be time to seek professional help.
A family therapist or counselor can provide guidance and support in resolving conflicts and addressing underlying issues.
Conclusion: Remember it’s Part of the Package
Life can be chaotic and frustrating with children at times, especially if it seems all they do is bicker, argue, and fight. Take time to remind yourself that it is a part of growing up and you can’t stop that process no matter how hard you try.
At the same time, effectively managing and easing it is possible with some (hard) work.
Being a big brother or a big sister can be a very important part of a child’s personal development. As a parent, our role is to help our children recognize that being a sibling is a wonderful opportunity for closeness, love, and friendship.
By understanding the factors contributing to sibling rivalry, creating a fair environment, and fostering teamwork, you can help your children develop strong bonds that will last a lifetime.
Remember to emphasize individuality, establish boundaries, and strengthen family bonds to further minimize sibling rivalry. With patience, understanding, and consistent effort, you and your family can thrive in a loving and supportive environment.