Charbel (3) and Paul (2) are 13 months apart. When I was pregnant with Paul, Charbel was too little to understand what was going on. But the day I gave birth to Paul, he immediately knew something was different… and the rivalry began. Suddenly, there was someone in his room with him and someone else Mommy and Daddy paid attention to. There was someone else using “his” things, because of course, in Charbel’s baby mind, EVERYTHING was HIS. At the ripe old age of a few months, Paul was still pretty oblivious to Charbel as a source of competition, but by his first birthday, if not before, he had begun competing back.
Normal sibling behavior – but it can drive parents crazy, especially when we’re faced with situations when it seems like, no matter what we choose, one child is going to be upset.
But the tension created by this competition is far outweighed by the strong brotherly bond that has already been forming between our little ones. My heart cringes when I hear one of them stomping toward me to voice their woes, but my heart warms when they run into the kitchen and ask for two jelly beans – one for them and one from their brother, or rough and tumble gently (an oxymoron, I know, but I think other parents understand that there are different ways of rough and tumbling and it can be gentle!) together, laughing hysterically over something that’s a secret between the two of them, or hugging each other good night.
They really are brothers and best buds, but some rivalry is inevitable, so I thought I’d share a few things about how to decrease tension between siblings, since that’s part of my daily routine, at least for now, and probably for several more years.
A FEW THINGS TO REMEMBER:
Sibling rivalry may cause tension, but it isn’t all bad – it has some benefits as well:
- It helps your children understand themselves and others better by discovering and learning how to overcome the differences between themselves and their siblings.
- It helps your children learn how to problem solve and negotiate.
Some tension between siblings is inevitable. The competition is usually caused by a combination of factors that exist in all healthy families.
1. Attention. All kids love their parents attention, and when they have siblings, they fear getting less of it and start to compete for it. In addition, they could sometimes be looking for attention from the other sibling and, since they aren’t getting positive attention, go about it negatively.
2. Different personalities. Any time you put two different personalities together, they are going to perceive things differently. Young children are just learning social skills; they aren’t born innately knowing how to deal with different personalities. Siblings don’t always understand the differences between them or know how to work together, and this can lead to tension.
3. Identity. Each individual establishes their personal identity during their childhood. They do so by discovering who they are and learning how to express themselves to others. This is a process and and sibling rivalry sometimes occurs when a child hasn’t mastered how to effectively communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs to others.
4. Development. Children are affected by their stage of development, and different stages face different needs as well as different challenges. When two children are in different stages of development, they have a very different wants and focuses, which can easily conflict with the other.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
While it’s not possible to completely mitigate tension or competition between siblings, parents can help prevent resentment and teach their children how to navigate through challenging moments with their siblings.
1. Don’t compare one child to another. Remember, seeking parental approval and attention is the #1 cause of sibling rivalry. If your child feels like you approve of their sibling more than them, they easily get discouraged and resent the sibling. After all, if the other sibling wasn’t around, you might be happier with them. By avoiding comparison and regularly pointing out the strengths of all your children, you help each of them feel accepted and valued as their are, and thereby decrease the need for competition.
2. Don’t blame one sibling to another, even implicitly. Avoid saying things like “No, we can’t go to the park today because your brother needs to _____________”. In your mind, you might be trying to help your child by explaining the reason behind your “no”, but what your young child hears is that they can’t go to the park because of their brother. Translate: If there brother was different, they would be allowed to go to the park. It’s their brother’s fault. Once your child is above the age of reason and has grasped the concept that each of us contribute to the family and help each other, such an explanation is fine. But when they’re younger, avoid phrasing things in a way that could make it seem like they are being prevented from doing something because of a sibling.
3. Establish clear family rules, and apply them universally. If your child perceives that you seem to favor one of their siblings, tension between them will increase drastically, and they could come to resent you as well, all because they feel like they aren’t the favored one. It’s very important for your children to know that they are ALL favored.
4. Make differences normal. Different clothes, different gifts or toys, sometimes different schedules. Differences are a necessary part of life. All of us are different from others, and that’s OK. It doesn’t make us better or worse. Since your child WILL run into differences in life, you want your child to understand that being different doesn’t mean being inferior. If everything has to be the same in your household, your child is likely to have great difficulty accepting differences when they come along, and differences between siblings in inevitable. If differences are accepted in your home and seen as beneficial (because of our differences, we each have a unique, and valued contribution to make), it will be easier for your child to accept differences in life without always demanding justification or getting resentful.
5. Make a point of teaching your kids collaborative activities. The sooner they learn that “two heads are better than one”, the better. If everything is competition, rivalry will naturally increase. Some competition is fine, but parents don’t usually have to focus on that – it happens naturally. We have to work on teaching kids to collaborate. When you find you kids competing a lot while playing, show them how to do the same thing by cooperating together. For example, instead of racing against each other, they could work together to beat the clock. Instead of competing to see who can build the best structure, they can build something together.
6. Spend quality one-on-one time regularly with each of your children so they don’t feel like they need to compete for your attention.
7. Teach your children critical thinking and problem solving skills. This will help them work through their differences when tension starts to escalate.