Sibling rivalry is almost unavoidable when you have more than one child. However, there are ways we as parents can minimize the proverbial fallout and maintain some semblance of peace within the home. Keep in mind that you cannot completely stop sibling rivalry as it is a very natural part of growing up. However if you are like me you may be wondering what you can do to stop siblings fighting, or at the very least help ease the tension.
How can I help my older children get along?
For the most part, you should try to stay out of minor arguments, but if you are forced to get involved, try your best not to take sides. When there is a fight or argument, both sides tend to have some amount of blame in it, and it is important to express your opinion on the situation as neutrally as possible. “I understand your brother took your toy, but we are not allowed to hit others,” and at the same time telling the other that “We are not allowed to take other people’s things.” Letting children see both sides of the argument and their part in it helps them feel heard, and maintaining a neutral stance keeps either child from feeling ganged up on. Set ground rules that apply to everyone all the time, with no exceptions.
Try to anticipate problem areas before they happen where you can. It isn’t always possible, but many petty arguments can be avoided with some forethought. When your kids do end up squabbling over what takeout pizza to get or what movie to watch on movie night, allow them time to make the decision together. Encourage them to compromise, and if the discussion continues on for to long, set time limits. Say,”You have 5 minutes to decide on something you are both happy with, or I will pick.” You will be surprised how quickly one becomes the ambassador for peace before they let you make the choice. If a “discussion” gets emotionally charged or becomes physical, separate the children in different areas of the house until they both calm down.
It is important to ensure that everyone has the space or ability to have alone time. This is particularly important for siblings who have to share a room. Can you imagine if you didn’t have a nice calm place to hide when you got stressed out? How many times have you locked yourself in the toilet just to get peace and quiet? Yes dads, I am looking at you!
Alone time and space to just be on your own is important for everyone including young children. Create a little reading corner for your book worm, or an art station for the creative child, or maybe a game center for your teenager, whatever works for you and your children to give them the freedom to express themselves, by themselves.
Having fun together and promoting teamwork through cooperation within the family goes a long way to reduce sibling rivalry. If the house is mess, make up a game to beat the clock by saying, “If we can tidy the living room together in 20 minutes we will all go out to the park before lunch.” Get in there and help while issuing age appropriate suggestions so that everyone has a part in helping out. Then you can all enjoy the reward together, as well as lessening the work on yourself!
Quality time together as a family is important in fostering a teamwork mentality, but it is also important to spend quality one-on-one time with each child. This can be particularly important for older children who are struggling with the changes of a new sibling, bullying at school, or other pressures of getting older. Try to spend a little bit of time with each child daily, and then an extended period of time alone weekly or monthly. Maybe your daughter likes coloring or your son enjoys photography. Whatever they love to do, dedicate an hour of your undivided attention to each of them to help foster their individuality and help them feel special and seen.
Make sure you praise them for successfully compromising, sharing, or helping one another. By verbally showing your love and appreciation for their cooperation, they are likely to do it more even if only to impress you! And always remember not to compare children with each other by saying, “You should be kind like your sister,” or “You should be tidy like your brother.” These comments will foster competition and make the situation worse.
How do I help older siblings cope with the new baby?
The best way to prepare older siblings for a baby is starting pre-birth, by keeping them involved in the pregnancy process. Let them join you at the ultrasound scan or to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, and let them sing or talk to the baby through your belly. Make sure to openly discuss any concerns they have, and always talk about the new arrival in an upbeat, positive, and exciting way.
Let them know what things at home will be different, what things will not change, and how excited you are for them to have a new sibling. In addition you could read them books or watch movies that show what life is like with a baby. Let them help decorate the nursery and pick out items for the baby. In my house we also bought a gift from the siblings to the new baby, and the baby “bought a gift” for them. So when they came to visit at the hospital, their new sibling had a gift they had “asked for” while he was in my tummy.
How do I handle sibling rivalry from my toddler toward my newborn?
One of the most common situations parents have to face is a toddler who is jealous of the new baby. For the most part, this form of sibling jealousy tends to stem from a lowered amount of parental attention. They see the new baby being fussed over and suddenly feel threatened. This often leads to the toddler acting out as a way to express themselves. Suddenly your sweet innocent little 2 year old is aggressive toward the new baby and hitting him. Or maybe your 4 year old has behavior problems after the new baby arrived.
Developmentally, they seem to have reverted to more juvenile behaviors such as wetting themselves, talking like a baby, or throwing temper tantrums on the supermarket floor. All of these are ways to vie for attention, as in their mind your attention (good or bad) needs to be on them. Yet you obviously can’t allow your toddler to hit the new baby, and the regression of your toddler back into another baby is the last thing you need.
The best way to combat the regressive behaviors in toddlers is to make them feel special for being “bigger.” Tell them how great it is that you have such a big helper to get the baby wipes for you. When they do help take care of their new sibling, say something like, “Aww, look, she is smiling at you because you are such a great big brother.”
Let them help pick what to dress the baby in, or ask questions like, “Is it cold outside? Do you think we should put a jacket on your little sister?” This helps your toddler develop empathy for the new baby, boosts their confidence at being a “big” boy or girl, and gives them your attention. It goes without saying that sometimes a toddler’s “help” won’t be that helpful, but it is important to let them try to build a bond with the baby.
It’s also particularly important during this stage to give your toddler special one-on-one time doing things the baby can’t do. I know it is tough when you haven’t showered or even run a brush through your hair. But even having just 15 minutes of alone time cuddled up before bed will help your toddler significantly. If you can manage, try to read a story or play a game, just the two of you. All these little moments of your undivided attention and affection will reassure your toddler that nothing has changed between the two of you.
Keeping to your toddler’s regular routine as much as possible will also help in this new transition. This isn’t the time to sign up for a new child care provider or begin potty training. It is best to wait until the toddler has adjusted to the new baby before making any other drastic changes.
How long it takes for a toddler to adjust to the new baby will obviously vary from child to child. Usually, it takes a few weeks before everyone is settled into the new family routine. Most parents say that the first 10 days or so are the hardest. Not just because your toddler is adjusting to the new baby, but also because as parents you are sleep deprived, unwashed, in pain, and adjusting to juggling the needs of more children.
Are there any benefits to sibling rivalry?
Finally it is important to note that there are some positive effects of sibling rivalry. In fact a study showed having younger siblings helped develop children’s empathy. Older children learn empathy by helping take care of younger siblings, while younger children learn to give their older sibling space and time alone. These understandings foster a bond between both children, allowing them to see things from their siblings point of view.
Being able to change perspective is a great life skill that will help in the workplace and in their future adult relationships. Learning to compromise, share tasks, and help with responsibilities, can all foster a great sense of teamwork. And even on the days when things aren’t going sowell, learning how to resolve conflict during childhood will help them grow into successful healthy adults. Which is what I will keep reminding myself of the next time they decide to argue about who got to ride in the front seat last time.