Sibling rivalry is as old as time itself. It’s every parent’s nightmare, and a normal part of growing up with in a family with more than one child. Even the closest siblings compete with one another from time to time. Sibling rivalry is complicated and there is no easy answer, but there are a few things parents can do to minimize the problem and help your children get along a little better.
First, though, take heart. Sibling rivalry isn’t just an age old problem, it’s a perfectly natural one. Fetal sharks will eat each other until only one survives to birth, while baby birds have been seen tossing siblings from the nest.
In the human family, it’s easy to see what’s happening. Your first child has all of your attention when, suddenly, a new baby invades his or her space and seems to become the new center of your universe. While the first child may be thrilled, at first, to have a younger brother or sister, reality soon sets in. Reactions range from aggression toward the new baby to regressing and becoming needier and more demanding. It doesn’t help that older children may not yet have the vocabulary or communication skills to express their feelings or the emotional maturity to manage their emotions. Short of waiting until one child is in college to have another, what can you do to keep peace in your home?
Space your children if possible
The farther you can space your children, the more independent your older child will be and the better equipped to make an adjustment. You know your child best, but some experts recommend spacing children 3-5 years apart.
Keep your children involved
When you’re expecting a new baby, keep your older child informed and involved. Talk to them about what to expect and give them plenty of opportunities to express their fears and to talk about ways to ease those concerns. Recruit your older child to help decorate the nursery and pick out toys for the baby. Involving your older children in the process will help them become more invested in the baby. At the hospital, before your older child comes in, ask the nurse to take the baby out. Ask your older child if they are ready to welcome the baby into the family or if they want a few more minutes. This way, your older child doesn’t walk into the room feeling like the 4th wheel. Imagine a 3-4-year-old child walking into a room and seeing their parents smitten over this new baby, then having to walk in as an outsider, all alone. Then imagine you, your spouse and your older child together welcoming in this new baby.
No favorites and no comparisons
Every one of your children is unique. One child might be just like you and you find yourself butting heads, while another might be incredibly easygoing and compliant. While you might feel a preference toward one of your children, don’t treat them that way. Also, never compare behaviors, grades, athletic ability, or anything else. Your children will encounter plenty of competition when they go to school, they don’t need it at home as well.
Be the parent
Being a parent is exhausting, more so when you have multiple children. Hang in there long enough to make sure each child has quality one on one time with each parent. Being the parent also means not making older children responsible for the younger ones. Unless your older child is many years older than the younger, don’t have them babysit. This develops a hierarchy where the older child is in charge of the younger one. This can lead to problems when the older one doesn’t know how to stop this behavior when the parent is ready to resume responsibility.
Be fair and consistent
Establish and enforce rules fairly and consistently. Unfairness or inconsistency will only fuel rivalry.