Sibling rivalry: I think it is one of the most common concerns among parents who have children. At least one of their kids has said or felt that “You love him/her more than me” “He is allowed to do it while I can’t” “You only care about him/her”.
Sometimes this is a perceived unfairness, while at times parents are consciously or unintentionally favoring one child over other(s). In either case, a child is growing to feel their siblings as their competition in a contest of winning Parent’s love. This is stressful for both children and parents and often lead to strained relationship well into adulthood too.
Following is a list of ways you can handle it effectively, to ensure closer bonding among sibling as well as the entire family.
Lose the labels– We as parents, should avoid using labels which suggests favouritism like “Oh, she is my girl while you are mama’s boy” or “this is our champion son and that’s his average performing sister”; “The younger one is curious one, the older is bit dumb”.
They are your kids as first born, second born and so on. But there shouldn’t be labels or name calling where one is perfect while other isn’t. Tell them you love them equally and do not feel one’s achievements or shortcomings can change that.
Don’t induce competitions among them – “Your sister is fairer than you” “Your brother did so well in science test, why can’t you”. “Let’s see who would finish their milk first? “ Whoever will finish their homework first will get this treat”.
Do not make them compete against each other. Instead –“If you finish your homework in next one hour, you will get a treat. Let them feel they both can win and don’t try to beat each other in contests. Instead, they will work towards cooperation -”. “Let’s see if you can clean up toys in next 15 minutes”
You can also enroll them in different activities to avoid any potential comparison ground.
Do not make the older sibling second parent to younger one– “Just make sure your younger brother finishes his meal” “Give up your toy, she is younger let her have it”. “Look after your younger brother while I go and pay cash at the counter”. Many times we make our older one feel like they got to mature, rather quickly, now. We forget that older one is just older to his/her younger sibling but they are still a child.
Don’t make them feel like a parent who has to always look after their siblings. Instead, ask “Do you think you can keep an eye on him while I quickly get back? I will be around, just call me out if things get harder” “I understand it is your toy. How about you share it with your brother for 1 hour? Let me know when you want to start that hour – now or in some time”.
Capturing happy moments when they are together – Parents are suggested to take pictures of their children together when they are playing, eating or doing fun activities like dancing together etc. Keeping these pictures up in the house will be like a little reminder of the times children enjoyed each other’s company. This does not mean you can’t have their individual pictures up – try to have all these pictures and videos in equal number for each child.
Divide equal time among the children. – The child craves attention from parents. They get easily frustrated when they see other child receiving in their presence. Make clear boundaries “like I said before this hour from 3-4 p.m. is me listening to your brother with complete attention then you will get your hour”.
Plan activities together – Design activities or games together where children can team up. Ask them to do puzzles together or give them chores where both of them can work on one thing – cleaning room, laying the dining table. Let them come up with a strategy to work together. Encourage them to decide between each other how they will be dividing this chore into who can do what?
Acknowledge and appreciate their love- Make it a point to offer praises to the child who displays love, compassion towards another. This is the act to encourage positive behavior “Oh you shared your candy with him, that’s really thoughtful of you. You must be feeling nice to make your younger brother happy”. Avoid putting the other child down – “Look how your older brother shares everything while you are selfish”.
Don’t get between their small squabbles but intervene during big ones – Let they have their little tussle, because believe it or not – siblings fight. If one comes to you complaining about the other- Don’t take sides and remind them that if one fight and other respond the same way then you have no role in that unless one of them won’t respond. “I should be back in some time until then you think of a way to share this toy else I am going to take it away”.
But when you notice one targeting the other– unprovoked/ victimizing /hurting. It is when you need to address it by exploring the root of it. At times, one kid hits another simply because they are bored. Let them know that hitting is not for entertainment and offer activities to spend time constructively.
You might also find our previous article interesting, penned by same author and our in-house Psychologist Chavi Garg.