Sometimes, without intending to, parents unwittingly do things that could fuel rivalry among their children. In a desperate cry to seek attention, siblings may sometimes express discontent by trying to outdo one another.
Suspect that your children are battling each other for your affection? Here are 10 ways you can deal with it and put an end to their sibling rivalry.
1. DON’T compare. In an effort to push their kids to, maybe, do better in school or be more well-behaved, parents often compare their kids with each other—“Your baby brother eats his vegetables. Why don’t you eat yours?” The comparison may work in some cases. However, Center for Family Ministries counselor Melissa Cruz says, “Comparing children with each other often sets them up for a great deal of jealousy and envy later on.” Let each child feel positive about being different.
2. DO spend alone time with each child. Even just 20 minutes a day spent exclusively with your child - without the distractions of your cell phone or of having to take care of her sibling - gives a huge boost to your child’s self-esteem. “Studies show that [even a little] one-on-one attention with a child per day will significantly reduce whining and aggressive behavior,” says Cruz.
3. DO keep your cool. Once you blow your top and start yelling, too, you will just be throwing yourself into the melee. Block out the fighting for a second to take a deep breath. Then count to 10. Continue to 20 if you find you’re still irate at 10. Keep going until you’re back in control.
4. DON’T resolve the conflict while everyone is upset. Says Cruz, “Calmly but firmly separate the two children and lead them to separate rooms. Talk with them only after they - and you - have had a few minutes to cool down.”
5. DO make each child feel uniquely special. Nurture each of your children’s unique talents. Don’t limit them with labels or comparisons, and don’t typecast. Says Cruz, “Saying, ‘Angie loves to draw and paint’ is better than saying, ‘Angie is a better artist than Jason.’ Let each child be who they are.”
6. DO be demonstrative about your love for each child. Pediatrician Ruth Francisco-Alejandro says, “Reassure your kids that you love each of them [because each is special] in his own way.”
7. DO be profuse with praise when it is deserved. Let your kids know they did a good job when you catch them being their own referees. “Always praise cooperative behavior when the kids are able to settle arguments on their own,” says Francisco-Alejandro.
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8. DO bolster good behavior, not with material rewards but with your time. Says Cruz, “Reward your children with your approval, affection, and personal attention. It is the most effective way to reinforce desired behavior.”
9. DO encourage personal goals. “Sometimes, it is helpful to encourage children to turn their competitive feelings into personal goals for themselves,” says Cruz. Teach your toddlers to ‘compete’ with themselves instead of with each other. Channel their behavior into mastering how to bounce a ball, hop, or tie shoelaces.
10. DON’T take sides. Instead, calm them down separately, sit with them, and have each one ‘confess’ his own actions, not the other child’s. “This technique helps children accept responsibility for their actions and lessens blaming,” says Cruz.
Watch (and Read) and Learn Let these materials help you deal with sibling quarrels.
The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole (New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1998)
Talking directly to the older brother or sister, this classic book shows them that there’s really nothing to worry about when the new baby arrives. “You are different from your sister or brother... Your parents love you as you are. They love you because you are special. You are the only you in the whole world.”
Loving Each One Best: A Caring and Practical Approach to Raising Siblings by Nancy Samalin and Catherine Whitney (New York, Bantam, 1996)
This book suggests parents take a path radically different from the traditional way of raising sibs - deal with each child according to his special needs instead of trying to raise them in the exact same way.