Sibling rivalry can be a huge cause of concern for parents whose perfect ‘happy family’ can deteriorate instantly into a seeming family war. Siblings may have been best friends for years and then one becomes a teenager and it all changes! Or, you could be grappling with this rivalry each year of their lives.
Here are some strategies you can use to navigate this friction.
1. Start before the new baby is born: Let your older child be part of the pregnancy and interact with the growing baby as much as possible. Give her a role to play and her own ‘baby’ if possible (her own doll, pram, changing table etc) to play alongside you when you’re busy with the new baby. Boys love prams too with their own choice of baby!
2. Make sure visitors to the new baby focus on the older sibling too: If visitors arrive with a gift for the baby, make sure there is something (even if you have to have a gift in reserve yourself) to give to the older child. Let the older child ‘help’ with unwrapping gifts for the baby and testing them. Call her/him ‘mommy’s assistant’ and help them feel special and older so they don’t regress to being a baby. Give lots of praise for their help.
3. Sharing your time: This is the hardest area for the older child as they are used to having you to themselves. Make sure you focus 1-1 on your older child in short bursts and use your network to keep your older child occupied and feeling important.
4. Family meeting/talk tanks: As soon as they are old enough, hold roundtable family discussions where everyone can have a say and be involved in the discussion to make sure they feel they have a voice and are an equal part of the family. Use this to discuss feelings/decisions/choices/issues etc. Your goal is to make your family into a ‘team’ with the ‘spirit’ of unity with a ‘family comes first’ mantra.
5. Keep your eye on the big stuff: Don’t overreact to small issues (toy squabbles). Try as much as possible to let the children work it out for themselves and practice conflict resolution. Go in; state your expectations, ‘I’ll be back in 2 minutes and you need to have worked out between you how to share this toy or it comes with me’ and then leave. Step in with bigger issues like bulling behaviour or put downs. It’s your job to teach them empathy, sensitivity and inclusion.
Remember, your children are at different developmental stages, they have different personalities and these change as they get older. They do not have to be treated the same. If they feel valued and loved by you equally and you are fair and treat them as individuals (not necessarily equally) then you’re doing a good job.