Not sure how to handle things every time your kids get into a huge sibling rivalry?
Here are four practical tips to help you get your kids past this challenging phase.
Sibling rivalry is among the challenges parents face with having more than one kid at home. How often did you have to play referee between your kids when they fight over toys, clothes, and food? It can be very draining and frustrating, to say the least, when you feel like you’re trapped in an endless cycle of resentment.
Of course, it can be too easy to just focus on your children’s current behavior and lose your marbles over their flaws and quirks. But trust us on this: Addressing the root cause of sibling rivalry is always a better idea as stress in the parents and children’s lives can create more conflict and increase sibling rivalry.
Adult siblings can also be portrayed with a rivalrous relationship, often continuing childhood conflicts. Situation comedies exploit this to comic effect. Sibling relationships may be shown as alternately loving and argumentative.
But what exactly can you do to end sibling rivalry while making sure that your children feel respected? And how can you help your child adjust to having a new baby in the house?
This article will look at four tips to help you (and your kids) survive this challenging phase of sibling feuds.
Tip # 1: Acknowledge your child's emotions
While you’re celebrating the presence of the newest member of your family, the chances are high that your eldest won’t share the same emotions. They’ll likely feel resentful about the entire matter and strat sibling rivalry with the newest addition to the family.
Even as siblings develop more individualized identities later in life, differences drive competition and conflict. This is common among brothers and sisters raised in the same household yet very different.
Competing desires for your attention and differences in developmental stages can lead to moments of jealousy or misunderstanding. Rivalry can even affect them as they get older with their self-esteem and friendships.
But why the resentment?
Aren’t they supposed to be ecstatic about having a little brother or sister instead of creating sibling rivalry?
Not necessarily. Try to view matters the way your child does. Remember, the most important need for a child is – attention. And the fact that there’s a second baby in the house means one thing: They won’t be getting the same amount of attention anymore hence, the start of sibling rivalry.
If anything, your new baby will get the biggest dose of attention now. And while that’s understandable, your first child might find this a hard pill to swallow. So it’s only normal for your eldest to display any of the following emotions:
And that is just three of the many other emotions that your child may feel while welcoming a new sibling. Whatever their reaction may be, just keep in mind that it’s normal for them to feel all sorts of negative emotions.
What can you do at this point?
Rather than harshly dealing with their negative emotions, it would be best to acknowledge their feelings and help them go through it. Gather the family and talk to give everybody a chance to say what they want to say. It’s also an opportunity to establish house rules that family members can agree to follow.
For example, you may say, “I imagine you must be feeling scared about all these changes that are going to happen.”
It doesn’t have to be done perfectly, but acknowledging these emotions is an excellent way to make them feel understood. And it will allow them to process their feelings and get over that difficult phase.
Tip # 2: Take the time to bond with your child
With a new baby in the house, your eldest may feel as though they’ve lost an important person in their lives—you. They may feel that you no longer need them. And they may view their sibling as a threat to their relationship with you.
Psychologists and researchers today endorse the influence of birth order and age and gender constellations on sibling relationships.
Other research shows that parental favoritism negatively affects the mental health of all of the children in the family, either by creating resentment in the less-favored children, stress from high parental expectations for the favored child, strained sibling relationships, and other negative consequences.
So if you notice your eldest trying to put some distance between you or pulling away from you, it’s probably because they’re doing their best to handle the shift of emotions. They’re just trying to keep themselves from getting hurt.
If one child loves to run around outside, grab your sneakers and soak up the sunshine with them. If the other child likes to read their favorite book, snuggle up next to them. Then, make sure that everyone has the space and time they need to be alone.
What can you do?
Don’t let that distance between you and your child grow.
Instead, take the time to assure your child that they still matter a lot to you. And, try to bridge the gap between your children by gently allowing them to develop an attachment for each other. Your eldest will most likely feel a bond between them and their new sibling in time.
Being proactive about teaching children emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, negotiation skills, and encouraging them to look for win-win solutions, parents can help children resolve conflicts that arise as a normal part of growing up together in the same household.
Tip # 3: Make your child feel included
One of the best ways to make your child feel included is by involving them from the very beginning — from prenatal care to nesting to birth. Help your child feel invested in the whole process and make them feel that they’re part of the new baby’s life.
Older and younger children may have different privileges due to their age. But if children understand that this inequality is because one child is older or has more responsibilities, they will see this as fair.
When you do this, the chances are that your eldest would find it easy to form a strong bond with their sibling. They may even ‘mother’ their little brother or sister, rather than view them as a competition.
That’s huge for young children to understand.
Tip # 4: Help your child navigate their negative emotions
Parental favoritism is often cited as a source of adult sibling rivalry. It’s also common for people to think that a sibling is, or has always been, favored by a parent, even if the rest of the family may not recognize or acknowledge it.
While it hurts to be the less favored ‘child,’ it’s human nature for some people to be drawn together for various reasons. One of the most common ways young children manifest challenging behavior is physical aggression. There can be a lot of impulsive hitting and pushing.
When these things happen, it is normal for you to feel mad. After all, it is never easy to see a child hurt another child. However, it is essential to respond to these behaviors with understanding and compassion.
The closer in age kids are, the more intense the rivalry can be. This natural inclination to compare ourselves to other people can be a major driver of sibling competition. Most fights arise due to underlying causes such as birth order and family dynamics.
Children are doing the best that they can to process all those big feelings they’re probably feeling. And being the kids they are, they’re not perfectly able to process all those emotions successfully.
So, if your eldest starts getting physical, keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like the baby. They may simply be going through a tough time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just let them hit their sibling. But rather than discipline them in anger, discipline your child with love. You don’t need to shame them for what they’ve done, as this form of reaction would only create more separation between you and your eldest.
Remember that your kid’s challenging behavior is just a symptom. So don’t react to the sign. Look deeper. And keep in mind that it is the emotion underneath all that behavior that is causing the problem.
Try to create some boundaries
You can create a physical boundary by pulling on the arm or pulling the child onto your lap and saying something like: “I can’t let you hurt him or her.”
Make sure that you are physically there so you can keep your child from getting even more physical. You can use your arms to keep them from hitting their younger sibling.
And if that’s not enough, pull them aside and tell them: “I can’t let you do that. I’m going to help you stop hurting your sibling.”
Do not allow physical aggression because it will create resentment between siblings, making the aggressive child feel even worse about themselves.
A Final Note
Child development experts recommend age spacing to reduce the chances of sibling rivalry and help you meet your children’s developmental and emotional needs.
So if you’re still at that stage where you’re thinking about adding a new member to the family, you might want to consider spacing your children at least three years apart.
This is because the older child has most likely already developed a more secure attachment and has somehow gained more independence from you. They won’t be competing for the exact needs simultaneously, but they’ll be close enough to play together all the time.
Plus, they’ll have more chances to build a bond with each other and share the same circle of friends.
Focus on the cause and not the symptom
If you’re already in a situation where you’re having difficulty dealing with your kids’ rivalry, remember to focus on the cause and not the symptom. Support your child and help them find emotional balance. Adjust accordingly.
Sure, gentle parenting requires a lot more effort (and tons of patience!). But the more you practice it, the better it will be for you and your kids.
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