“He hit me!” “I didn’t do it!” “Yes, he did and because of how much it hurt I dropped the lamp!” I’ll bet you’ve heard similar exchanges between your kids. I’m also certain you’ve witnessed how intense and hurtful sibling rivalry can be. Common as it is, sibling rivalry can be difficult to manage. It’s important for parents to get control of it early, though, because it can affect children’s self-esteem, future relationships, temperament, family dynamics and more if it isn’t dealt with appropriately.
Here are five suggestions for managing sibling rivalry.
- If you’re expecting, get the older sibling ready for their new brother or sister. This isn’t as hard as you’d think. Explain to them they’re going to have a new friend to play with. Show them pictures of your ultrasounds and keep them in the loop as the baby develops, such as letting them feel the baby kicking. Show them pictures of themselves when they were a baby so they can identify a little easier when your new little one comes along.
Keep reminding your older child they’re important to you. You may be exhausted from working, being pregnant, parenting and all of the other thousand things you have to take care of in a day, but it’s important, especially now, you make time for your other child. In the months and weeks preceding the birth of your new baby, everyone and everything around you will likely be very baby-centric. It will be important to reserve time for stories, movies, books, even one-on-one trips with just the two of you so that your oldest baby knows how much you love him or her. Something else to keep in mind is the new baby will likely get lots of new toys and things from family and friends. It might be a good idea to purchase a few things for the new big brother or sister so they don’t feel left out during showers. Better still, get a toy you know your older child will love and when the baby is born have the baby give it to their big brother or sister. I did this for my kids and they still remember getting that present!
3. Don’t compare your children. Your kids are individuals. They have individual personalities, strengths, weaknesses, wants, needs and emotions. Comparing them based on their grades, behavior, looks, athletic prowess or anything else is sending them a not-so-subtle message they’re in competition for your approval.
4. Be fair. This seems simple, but there’s a lot to it. Being fair not only means parenting children with evenness, but it also means that you shouldn’t discuss one child with another, manipulate them into playing one against the other – especially for your gain – or spend more time with one over the other(s). Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into their squabbles or taking the side of one child over another. Instead, encourage them to solve their own disputes, with the exception of dangerous fights involving physical violence. For those you must step in and stop immediately, and if they happen frequently, seek professional help and guidance.
5. Set limits early. Your home shouldn’t resemble a war zone. Setting limits early doesn’t mean walking into a room where all the children are fighting and saying, “Everybody go to your rooms now.” Setting limits early means that you’ve explained, through careful watchfulness of their behavior, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable before a large knock-down-drag-out fight begins. If you catch one of them saying something ugly to the other in an offhand manner, correct them upfront. They need to know that violence, ugly words and hurtful insults will never be tolerated and that communication is the best way to get things handled.
6. Encourage good behavior. Compliment them and be generous with hugs and praise.
If you have questions about your kids’ fighting, talk with your doctor who may have additional tips and recommendations. Or post a question for me below.
Dr. Paula Schlesinger is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic near the Galleria. Her clinical interests include developmental and behavioral issues, diagnostic dilemmas and nutrition.