Tips to End Sibling Rivalry

Growing up I was the oldest of three children, three and a half years apart and six, respectively. My two younger brothers fought tooth and nail for years. There were many tears and many bruises that came out of it. The dynamic between us was peaceful and times, and other times is was wrought with impatience, annoyance and at times, downright hatred. From a professional standpoint, I’ve taught many siblings and have seen a variety of types of relationships. There are many factors involved but a lot has to do with how we, as parents and educators, both model positive behavior, and how we handle the inevitable clashes.

One of the most thorough resources I’ve found on the matter is from Dr. Bill Sears, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He is also the parent of eight and has written over 30 books on parenting and childcare.

1. Make friends before birth. Get your older child acquainted with the new baby before birth. Show her pictures of a baby growing in mommy’s belly. Let her pat the baby beneath the bulge, talk to baby, and feel baby kick. Replay the older child’s babyhood. Sit down with your child and page through her baby photo album. Show her what she looked like right after birth, coming home from the hospital, nursing, and having her diaper changed. By replaying the older child’s baby events, she will be prepared for a replay of her brother or sister.

2. Make the older sibling feel important. Savvy visitors who themselves have survived sibling rivalry will bring along a gift for the older child when visiting the new baby. In case this doesn’t happen, keep a few small gifts in reserve for the older sib when friends lavish presents and attention on the new baby. Let her be the one to unwrap the baby gifts and test the rattles. Give your child a job in the family organization. To pull the child out of the “I want to be a baby, too” belief, play up her importance to you, personally and practically. Give her a job title, such as “mommy’s helper.” Shortly after our fifth child, Erin, was born, we gave our four-year-old, Hayden, the job of “mother’s assistant.” And, we paid her to help. After a few weeks, Hayden was not only more pleasant to live with, she also picked up some housekeeping skills. One of our children liked the title of “go-fer.” As Martha was nursing Stephen, she would ask three-year-old Matthew to “bring the clothes for mama,” “please grab those toys,” “help hold the diaper…” And she would thank Matthew for his help. When an admirer looks at your new baby and says, “My, what a wonderful baby,” quickly add, “Yes, now we have two beautiful children.”

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