Easing Sibling Rivalry in Young Children

No matter how close or far apart you chose to have children, they will at one time or another experience jealousy towards their siblings. It’s human nature, and not a result of poor parenting, so don’t doubt your instincts on raising your children.

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. Children have to be taught by example when they’re young, for it’s not instinctive at birth that they know how to love and be kind toward one another.

Start Even Before Little Brother or Sister is Born

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:

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.

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.

Spend On-on-One Time with Older Children When Possible

Perhaps, while the new baby is sleeping, you can play or read with the other child. Give them your undivided attention, so they will feel loved and secure.

It is a must to set 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.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate Each Child’s Uniqueness

Some comparison between children is inevitable, but regular praise of each one of your children builds self-esteem and self-confidence. Children need to hear what they do well. Be sure to praise your child for his or her uniqueness, strengths, accomplishments, and efforts.

Get Involved if the Rivalry Crosses the Line

Older children can be downright mean and sometimes torment younger siblings. Parents need to intervene if it begins to get out of control. By the same token, younger siblings should not be given “free reign” to harass or irritate the oldest just because they’re smaller.

Blaming each other or tattling should be discouraged, letting them sort out some of their own problems by remaining neutral. If one is being bullied or harsh words are being said, disciplinary intervention may need to occur before things get out of hand. Call a time-out from play for them both to cool off. Then calmly 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.

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.

All you can do as a loving parent is show each child unconditional love and accept them for who they are.

Someday they won’t be under your roof anymore, so it’s important to enjoy each moment with them while they are young and allow them to develop their own relationships with one another. You can encourage more closeness by complimenting them when they play well with their siblings or when they help out.

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.

Cathy Antoniou

Cathy is Mom to Katie and Emma. Over the last two decades, Cathy has gained extensive experience working in communications, marketing, and public relations for a wide variety of organizations in the non-profit, public, and private sectors. She has written for local and national marketing campaigns, and for companies with diverse corporate clients.

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