I think sibling relationships are BONKERS. They take your stuff, you fight, you take their stuff, you fight again, five minutes later you sit down and watch TV together like nothing ever happened. What a complicated, fascinating and wild ride! This is a really personal subject for me because I grew up with four siblings (and one bathroom). I have been on both ends of the ongoing war that is sibling rivalry and looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about the experience. It brought a ton of funny memories, it taught me how to forgive, it forced me to develop a thick skin, and it gave me four automatic friends to have in adulthood. Still. It was pretty hard at the time. Let’s talk about sibling rivalry.
Why can’t siblings just get along? We know they love each other deep down. We know they should look out for one another. That’s the thing. WE know this. Kids don’t. As they grow and learn more about themselves and the world around them, they are learning how to get their needs met and to accomplish the tasks they want to get done. A sibling gets in the way of that. They take attention away, they take toys away, they take opportunities away. Kids are pretty egocentric until they get a little older and focus mostly on their own needs. This is completely normal but it is tricky to navigate when it comes to sibling relationships. Here are five tips for dealing with sibling rivalry.
~Starting as early as possible (preferably if you have a kiddo and are pregnant with another) start talking about the changes that will happen and reassure your child that they are an important part of these changes. You might say “when the baby comes, she might cry a lot which will make me tired. I might not run around as much but I’ll still want lots of cuddling with you!”. “Your new baby brother will love when you sing to him at bath time the way we do now! What songs do you want to teach him?”. Normalize talking about things and always reassure your child that even though lots will change, your love for them won’t.
~It is really hard to know how a child will respond to a new sibling coming home. It’s wonderful when they are excited and want to help but it is pretty normal if they struggle to warm to the idea. Unless they are harmful to the baby, allow your child to have their experience. Not all children adapt to change quickly and telling them you understand their feelings can help bridge the divide, as opposed to widening it. Also, some children have an easy time with their sibling’s baby stage but not the toddler stage. That’s when they realize that “little harmless baby” can now come steal their toys! That’s not cool!
~As your children begin competing for toys and resources you can find yourself playing referee a lot. Start by being a coach. Spend time playing with your children together, modeling social skills and praising efforts to play well together. Encourage “taking turns” as opposed to “sharing”. Notice when your children start to get frustrated with each other and model problem solving “you are grabbing toys from your brother and I think it’s because you’re frustrated. It looks like we need to change gears. What can we find to do instead?”.
~When there are fights, decide on an intervention strategy and be consistent. Take the problematic toy and put it into “time out”. Have a cooling off space that you can direct them to. Have a giant teddy bear to come “tattle” to so that you don’t have to hear each grievance. If one hits, they go to their room. If they both hit, they both go to their rooms. Be as consistent and fair as possible. Young children will struggle with meaningful apologies but they can “check on” their sibling and ask to give a hug or say “I love you”.
~Try to spend at least 10 minutes a day alone with each of your children. They need a good bond with you to develop good bonds with others. Have this time be dedicated to just being with them (no homework, lectures or big convos). Let them pick an activity, toy or book and follow their lead. This may seem too small to be significant or too hard to plan around, but there is a good amount of research suggesting that this dedicated time goes a long way. Your child’s relationship with you will always be their first and most impactful! Enjoy them as much as you can!!!!!