8 Ways to Turn Sibling Rivalry into Sweet Harmony
Sibling rivalry is a phenomenon as old as time, but with the right tools, you can turn envy, sibling fighting and comparisons into greater family connection.
If you are thinking of having another baby, or already have more than one, you are probably aware of the wonders and complexities of expanding your family.
Having one child has its own challenges of learning how to be a parent, how to raise a happy, creative, healthy child, but having a second child is a whole new ball game!
It’s not just doing the same thing all over again, it’s learning how to navigate a whole new terrain of human connection.
Think of your family as a kind of connected system. When another child is born, this system changes, upgrades and expands with all other participants experiencing this very real shift.
It is especially challenging for your older child because suddenly their status changes from being the object of attention to having to share mommy and daddy with someone they didn’t necessarily invite.
Yet, the sibling relationship is one of the most meaningful we have in our lives. In the long run, it can be incredibly helpful, supportive and sustaining.
So what do we parents need to know, in order to make this relationship a positive one for our children, right from the start?
1. The relationship between your kids will take work
Your kids have a natural and therefore, unbreakable bond between them. You can’t divorce your siblings, right? But it’s also a bond that demands your parenting attention.
It won’t necessarily happen on its own.
From your kids’ point of view, you made them, they didn’t ask to have a sibling, and so you are also “responsible” for teaching them how to get along.
Since your children may be very different from one another (you can find many examples of siblings in history who were complete opposites), it’s going to take some concentrated effort by both mom and dad, to lead your kids and the whole family to learn how to communicate well and become a connected family.
It’s very important to treat everything you see in your children with empathy. So prepare yourself to stay calm in the face of whatever comes up. Your children learn from your example.
You can also work to turn what’s negative into a positive.
You don’t need to erase envy or other negative behaviors. Just to teach them to express their impulses more positively.
Envy, for example, can be a very positive driving force. If we didn’t feel envy at all, we would not progress. For example, instead of grabbing the other child’s toy, show them where they can find an engaging pursuit of their own.
Read about how I learn a great lesson from my kids’ envy of each other’s toys!
2. Understand your child’s psychology
By a very young age, your child senses that he or she is a separate entity, an individual self. This self can also be referred to as their “ego”.
In order to be empathetic towards your children’s’ behavior, it’s important to understand their psychology and how sibling rivalry arises.
The most common phenomenon is that it’s difficult for them to tolerate having somebody else to share mom and dad, or their toys with. They may sense that the new baby is competition over mom and dad’s attention.
Some children may be happier to share than others, but either way- remember that the jealous reaction is natural.
Small tip: give the older child compensation for the mommy time the baby “takes” from him. Have dad take him places and play with him while mom tends to the baby, as much as possible. This way he will not feel frustrated by the change in circumstances.
3. Equal doesn’t mean “the same”
The ego’s natural perception of reality is always in comparison.
Something must always be more or less than something else. It has to be further or nearer, smaller or bigger, more or less pleasant, etc. This is how our mind naturally discerns.
So it’s best not to try too hard to make both siblings “the same”.
Plus, if you make the older child feel that the younger one is another child “just like them” they could worry about the new baby taking their place, and they won’t feel special.
So make your older child feel special. Show them that not only is their spot in your heart always safe and secure but that they are being promoted to a whole new status in the family! (more on that in a moment)
4. Emphasize each child’s uniqueness
Indeed, our deepest need as an individual is to feel unique and valued.
When you have a boy and a girl it is much easier to have each child feeling special and unique no matter what you do, because of the natural differences between them.
But when you have two boys or two girls you have a more serious task of helping each one feel special and avoiding jealousy and rivalry.
The easiest way to go about it is to give each child their own special place in the family by emphasizing their different ages. The older one is “the big brother or sister”, and the younger one is “the little brother or sister”. The older one has their privileges, as well as new responsibilities of caring for his younger sibling. And the younger one has their privileges for being the youngest.
This way they both sense what they gain by their place in the family hierarchy, and you will have solved a lot of the arguments sibling rivalry causes, simply by telling them “you are the older one and you are the younger”. It is very natural for them to understand things this way.
It can also help you shape the way they care for one another as they grow older. You can steer away from sibling rivalry and competition by emphasizing your children’s uniqueness as a way to complete and support each other.
This will create a much greater sense of connection.
5. When your kids don’t get along
Try not to tell your older child, “he’s your brother! Why don’t you play with him/give him your toy?”
To your child, the logic that he must be nice because it’s his biological sibling just doesn’t hit home.
They don’t necessarily feel that their younger sibling was their choice, and they may not feel that they want them at all. So stressing that the other child is “their” brother or sister may evoke resistance and competition rather than cooperation.
Teach them to care for each other regardless of being siblings- but because it’s the right thing to do.
6. Compliments and gifts
Kids are very perceptive to how you treat them in comparison to their siblings.
For example, if you give a compliment to one child (especially if you have two boys or two girls) the other may feel jealous. So try to give them compliments separately.
They can be sensitive even to very little gestures. If you smooth out one child’s clothes, you should do the same for his sibling, Otherwise, even the smallest sign of affection or “gift”, could turn into an issue.
However, when you do buy actual gifts for them if you really want to get a joyful response- try to give each child a different gift that is tailored to them. Though we may not be aware of it, they want to receive something that is special, and if they get the same as their sibling it dampens their joy!
Also, it’s good for each child to have their own toys and personal things.
7. Avoid sibling rivalry by turning competition into cooperation
We often see that envy between siblings turns into a competition. This is why you want them to play cooperative games as much as possible. Instead of racing to the car seeing who gets in first, make it about helping each other in.
We need to create artificial circumstances that will make connected behavior their second nature. Instead of competing against one another, they compete to help one another. The key is to take their natural impulses and use them to create new habits.
You can do this through examples, books you read to them, a discussion that will give them the correct outlook on life. Help them see both the natural form of individualistic competition with its consequences and the desirable form, of connection and mutual consideration.
8. Create an atmosphere of connection
The most important thing to do is to create an atmosphere of connection in the family, where mutual help is what’s acceptable. Make it a habit to thank family members for their contributions to the family.
Allow your kids to help out around the house in age-appropriate ways.
When you sit around the family table, you can take turns pointing out helpful behaviors of that day.
Or lead by your own example. If dad is playing with the kids, he can say something like “I’m sorry I have to go see if mom needs some help from me”…just to give that example and come right back.
And reward kids for good behavior. I have created a little challenge for my kids, where they put a colored fluff-ball in a see-through container for every good behavior they do. When they fill it up they get to choose something fun to do together!
Remember, sibling rivalry might very well arise, but if you educate towards connection you can make it possible for them to be good friends.
And just to keep in mind, they say it gets easier when a third child comes along!
With a third or fourth child, the older child is no longer the only one who has to share and compromise. It becomes a group thing, which is easier for everyone.
Whether you have two kids or more, you have an amazing opportunity to create a connected family atmosphere that will keep all of you growing!
What are your thoughts? Would love to hear them down in the comments!
Related reading: An Easy Way to Create Deep Family Connection