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“Having one child makes you a parent, having two makes you a referee.”
Your first child is at the centre of the universe in your life. Every decision you make is keeping in mind their best interest. The child is also aware of this privileged status and enjoys the undivided attention of parents. Their perfect life changes, however, the day you bring in another child in your life. The birth of a sibling can be a stressful event in your child’s life.
Video: Sibling Rivalry in Children – Reasons and Solutions
What Does Sibling Rivalry Mean?
Siblings can be the best of friends or worst of enemies. Based on their situation, they can either love or hate each other, but they cannot ignore their presence in each other’s life.
It is common for siblings to fight and then make up with each other. While it can be frustrating to see your kids fight over trivial matters, it should not be a reason for you to lose your sanity. But, you can reduce the frequency of fights and promote peace in your home by making some ground rules.
What Causes Sibling Rivalry?
Sibling rivalry starts soon after the second child is born and it will continue all through their growing years. Siblings compete for everything: from parents’ attention to toys, anything shared between them could be a potential area of conflict. In a way, it is healthy as they will learn to compete, share and reach compromises. These qualities can help them in dealing with relationships later in life. Some reasons for this rivalry can be:
- Jealousy – Being the firstborn, your toddler is used to getting your undivided attention. Now they will have to share you with another individual who is pretty much incapable of doing anything and is entirely dependent on you. It can make your child feel neglected as this new entrant in the family now gets all the attention. As they grow, the jealousy can flare up as you ask them to share their toys, room, bed, clothes, books, etc.
- Comparison – It is very common for parents, family, friends or relatives to compare siblings. It could be a comparison based on their physical appearance or temperament, nature, communication, mannerism, hobbies, eating habits, skills, etc. This continuous comparison could make them feel lesser compared to their sibling and can be a cause of long-lasting rivalry.
- Individual temperament – Every child is unique and will have a different temperament. Their mood, disposition, adaptability, etc., will form a part of their personality. It will play an essential role in how they will get along with others. Some kids are introverted and may not be bothered by their sibling taking up attention. Others may require extra love, care, and attention. The same personality traits can be a reason for conflict as both kids will want a similar amount of attention.
- Special needs / Unwell child – Sometimes, a child could have special needs because of ill health, slow learning, emotional needs or physical disability. This will require the parent to dedicate more time to them and maybe a reason for the other child to be jealous of their sibling.
- Evolving needs – In most families, the younger child will inherit things used by the older sibling, making them feel jealous of being unable to get new things. Similarly, the older sibling may have a special attachment to their belongings and not be ready to share them. As they grow up, they will develop a sense of individuality and may resent taking care of their sibling or sharing household responsibility. They will not want to play with someone of a different age group and maybe looking forward to spending more time with their own friends.
- Role Models – Your kids will learn from you. Ensure that you set the right examples; if you resolve conflicts with your partner in a respectful way, they will learn the same. If you are aggressive in their presence, be assured of similar behaviour from them.
Sibling Rivalry Between Toddler And Baby
When you are unable to handle your toddlers’ rival attitude towards the newborn, it can get frustrating. You are already going through post-partum stress, and your toddler’s hostile behaviour can add to your misery.
Think from the child’s point of view. It is a stressful time for them too. They will find it tough to accept the newborn as a part of life. They are used to getting undivided attention, and they are losing this privilege. They will show their discomfort by misbehaving, yelling, shouting, crying. Some could go to the extent of making unnecessary demands, stealing, breaking things, hurting the baby or even themselves. They can be annoyed by the newborn’s constant crying or merely the fact that you are dedicating more time to the baby. Their demands could be as silly as being carried on the lap, rocked on their crib, using a sippy cup, eating baby food or sleeping next to you.
Dealing with this aggressive relationship will be challenging for you, and the way you handle the situation at this stage will form the base of their long-term relationship.
How To Prepare Your Toddler For Your Newborn’s Arrival?
It is advisable to prepare your toddler before the baby is born to ensure a healthy bonding between them.
- Inform them in a way that they can relate to the arrival of the new baby.
- Involve them during pregnancy by letting them touch your baby bump or talk to the baby inside your stomach. Take them along for gynaecologist visits and see the ultrasound or hear the heartbeats.
- Tell them the positives of having a sibling so that they look forward to having a partner and friend rather than seeing the baby as competition.
- While one parent gets busy with a newborn, the other parent should spend quality time with the toddler, so it is not difficult for your toddler to handle the parent time conflict.
- Once the baby has arrived, involve your toddler in child care. Let them choose clothes or toys for the newborn and help set up the nursery. It would be nice to let them feel responsible for the well-being of the baby. Let them hold the baby so that they can bond.
- Even when you are busy with the baby, take out some time every day for the toddler.
- Involve your toddler in feeding the baby. You can encourage your toddler to entertain the baby with funny faces, dancing, and singing. They will be more than happy to share the time with you and bring a smile to the sibling.
- Be prepared for tantrums and aggressive behaviour once in a while.
How To Deal With Sibling Rivalry
Whether you like it or not, fighting kids will always be a part of every parent’s life. The way you deal with the situation will form the foundation of their relationship. Setting ground rules from day one will ensure household peace in the long run. They will have to learn to compromise, negotiate, control their anger, understand others’ perspective, and finally, to let go and start afresh.
- Do not get involved in every small conflict. Let the kids try to resolve it before you feel the need to step in. It will only increase their dependence on you if you solve all their problems in life.
- Physical harm should be a strict NO. Any situation should not escalate to violence.
- Monitor the language used, and ensure that there is no name-calling or abusive usage of words. If you hear any inappropriate language, find out the source from where they might have learned this.
- Do not take sides or show favouritism, be fair and hear both sides of the story. Involve kids in resolution rather than solving issues for them.
- Separate the kids until they calm down. Sometimes just keeping them away from each other will give them time to reflect.
- Do not focus on figuring out who is responsible for the fight. It takes two to fight – so both are responsible.
- Do not compare kids based on their skill levels, eating habits, educational performance, etc. Each child is unique and will have different talents and traits. Comparisons can only lead to rivalry.
- Share your time with each kid and give them undivided individual attention for some time every day.
- Do not use violence to stop the argument. It will only make the kids use violence as a tool to end conflicts at some point in life.
- Treat all your children equal. Either they learn to share, or no one gets it. For instance, when they want to play with the same toy, let them take turns or put it away till they agree to share.
There might be tantrums, arguments, whining, and battles, but as a parent, you will have to deal with it.
Tips To Stop Sibling Rivalry
1. Helping Kids Get Along
You can help your kids get along by merely setting a few rules. These apply to parents as well as kids to ensure solutions are found to sibling arguments.
- If kids have varied interests, make time for the needs of both.
- Allow them to share their time with friends as well as siblings. Make sure that they spend quality time together.
- Have dedicated quality time with the whole family. Plan outings, vacations, movies, picnics, and let them bond with each other.
- Allow them to solve their conflicts and get involved only when needed.
- Make a schedule for things that they would have to share.
- If required, seek professional help to resolve sibling rivalry.
2. When One Sibling Is Handicapped
Parenting comes with its challenges, and these increase significantly if one of the siblings has special requirements in terms of physical or emotional needs. Parents will need to spend more time with this child and balance their time with the other sibling. Parents end up becoming preoccupied with caring for the sibling with special needs and ignoring the other child’s needs. This situation can lead to lots of resentment and hatred at some point in life. This tension can be relieved by involving your kids in the tasks required to care for the special needs child and spending quality time with them.
3. When One Sibling Is Gifted
Each child is gifted in their way. They can have different abilities and talents. Do not compare them, especially in front of others. Make them feel loved and special. Recognise their talent and help them develop their strengths. It is okay to mention your weaknesses and help them overcome them.
Taking care of more than one child is no walk in the park. Sibling rivalry is an inevitable part of growing up with kids who have siblings. Your job as a parent is to manage the conflict to a level where it can become an opportunity for your children to grow as individuals.