As a therapist in San Francisco I specialize in all things relationships, and that includes the relationships between siblings. Siblings have a very unique and intense bond that isn’t always harmonious. In fact, up to one third of siblings experience it. Siblings spend more time during childhood together than they do with their parents so it is important to intervene before sibling rivalry turns into something lasting. Sibling rivalry is frustrating and stressful for parents and as children get older their fighting will often shift from wrestling as they do when they are toddlers to all out verbal and physical warfare as adolescents. You’re never going to eliminate sibling rivalry, and there is some data that suggest there are benefits to it, but you can minimize sibling rivalry with the following parenting solutions.
Tips for Minimizing Sibling Rivalry
Start at Birth
Before the second child arrives start preparing the older child for their new sibling. Introduce the big brother or big sister to his new sibling by letting him pat your belly, by talking to the baby and if possible letting him hear the new baby’s heart beat. Relive the older child’s baby hood by showing him pictures of him when he came home from the hospital. Have him help get the nursery ready and explain to him that you will need him to be helpful when the new baby comes.
Bring a Gift
When the new baby arrives and mom and baby are being showered with gifts don’t forget to shower big brother or big sister with a few treats too. Don’t worry about spoiling the older child with a few extra gifts.
Allow Alone Time
Generally, the younger child will want to do whatever the older child is doing. The younger child will want to follow the older child everywhere. Make sure you give the older child time alone. If there is a larger age gap the younger child can be even more annoying so set boundaries for both children by providing alone time for the older sibling and entertainment for the younger one.
Much of sibling rivalry stems from children vying for their parents’ attention. So don’t make them fight for your attention. Give each child 10 – 20 minutes of your time so you can listen to all they have to say and see all they have to show you. Explain this is time that both children get and that they are not allowed to interrupt while having this special time.
Don’t Label Them
Don’t refer to siblings with labels such as “clever one” or “athletic one”, that only creates competition. Accentuate all of their great qualities, but refrain from using labels that set them apart.
It’s important to let siblings resolve their own conflicts but sometimes a parent will need to step in and stop any fighting that is taking place. Separate the kids and explain to them that physical violence is never the way to resolve a conflict and that they must use their words. If that doesn’t work separate them until they calmly discuss their conflict. If one child is always on the losing end of their battles you’re going to need to determine if sibling abuse isn’t happening. We’ll be discussing this topic in the next few weeks so be sure to check back.