3 Tips for Parents to Ease Sibling Rivalry

One of the most valuable things for parents to know about so-called “sibling rivalry” is that their children’s frequently obnoxious, and sometimes impossible, behavior is perfectly normal.

American pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock once noted that for a child to happily accept a new sibling is like asking a wife to accept her husband’s acquisition of a younger mistress. While that comparison may be a stretch, it does shed light on how difficult gaining a younger sister or brother may be for an older sibling. However, most children soon adjust to the new baby and begin to feel pride and pleasure in the infant. Unfortunately, this is usually a rather short, tranquil phase before the next period of stress when that sweet little baby, to whom the older child was beginning to enjoy feeling superior, begins to get up and walk around and compete in a lot of new ways. While the parents are greeting baby’s new accomplishments with loud cries of joy and encouragement, the older child may be sulking in a corner.

The basic problem in dealing with children’s feelings about their siblings is the immaturity of their thinking. Obviously, if you fill his little brother’s bowl too full, there may not be enough for him. When children feel that they are in direct competition for basic nurturance, they fight for their right to survive—a strength that we often admire under other circumstances.

So what can you do to ease sibling rivalry?

Here are 3 tips for parents:

  1. Telling your older child about your endless supply of love may help, but demonstrating your love will work even better. One way to do this is spending some time alone with each of your children every day. It doesn’t have to be long or formal, but each child should know he has time with you each day when you are his alone.
  2. It is also useful (and fun!) to reminisce with your child about how life was for you and him when he was the age of the younger sibling. Show him pictures of himself, especially the ones with you, and tell him how much you enjoyed being with him then and now.
  3. Think of this period as a developmental necessity. When you remember that sibling rivalry is normal, it may help you stay relatively tranquil as your children struggle through those complicated emotions of love, hate, competition and rivalry—all normal feelings children have for their brothers and sisters.

As you may know from personal experience, sibling rivalry does not simply go away at a certain time. In fact, many adults still have residues of sibling rivalry. It’s usually hardest, however, with young children and we hope these tips will make the process easier.

Visit the CEED website for more tips for parents and caregivers about the psychological development of infants and toddlers.

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Reprinted with permission of the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) at CEHD UMN. 

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