Your usually well-behaved, gentle 3-year-old seems angry, hurt or jealous whenever you spend time with his new baby sister. You fear that a terrible case of sibling rivalry is brewing. What do you do?
Relax. And be glad that your child is reacting to his new sibling in a normal, even healthy, way.
Unbeknownst to many parents, sibling rivalry is a fact of family life. Whenever a new sibling demands a parent’s attention, it’s reasonable to expect that an older child will feel left out. After all, some of the time Mom used to spend with him now goes to the new baby. Sibling rivalry is a sure sign that a child is forming a strong emotional attachment to a parent, and it happens in nearly every family. In fact, I worry more about families that show no signs of sibling rivalry than those that do!
While most families experience sibling rivalry at some point, it appears to be more common in families where the children are spaced less than five years apart. Larger families may find it becomes less of an issue as more children join the family; by the time the fourth or fifth child comes along, the older ones have figured out that there is enough love to go around.
Interestingly, sibling rivalry often doesn’t become apparent until a new baby is 9 or 10 months old. At that point, he or she becomes more of a “person” to an older child and begins to invade the older child’s space. As the baby enters the demanding, self-centered toddler stage, sibling rivalry may intensify.
‘Special time’ solution
So how should parents handle it?
One of the best ways is through “special time.” Give each child a daily dedicated block of time with you while the sibling is not present (he may be napping, at preschool, etc.) Explain to your child ahead of time that he or she will have 10 or 15 minutes alone with Mommy or Daddy to do whatever he would like to do, and that this is their “special time.” The key is to put your child in charge of the activity. There are only two rules: No television allowed, and the activity must be interactive. Try to avoid interruptions; let the answering machine pick up phone calls. Set a timer for the allotted period and when time is up, move on to another activity.
This is a wonderful technique to use not just for sibling rivalry but to help you establish and nurture your relationship with each of your children. Some parents may feel that they already spend time with their children throughout the day, but there is a big difference between time spent together while you are cooking or doing housework and time spent on a one-to-one, undivided basis.
Be careful not to set unrealistic expectations for your child when a new baby is coming into the mix. It’s a romantic notion to think that your toddler will be excited about his or her new sibling, but it’s not realistic. In your older child’s eyes, this new person is just stealing Mommy or Daddy’s attention. In fact, the older child will often misbehave to get negative attention rather than be ignored altogether. The solution? Let the toddler take center stage. Give him “positive strokes” with comments such as, “Oh my goodness, this baby cries so much, I’m glad you’re such a big boy and don’t cry all the time.” Let him know his place in your life has not been lost. Eventually, those feelings of love and affection that every parent wants to develop between their children will come when the children see that they are valued as individuals.
Don’t make the mistake of placing your own expectations and hopes for sibling relationships on your children. Invariably, we as parents reflect on ourselves and our roles as siblings in our own families. Many times these are good memories; sometimes, they are not — and we fiercely try to ensure that our children imitate our good relationships or completely avoid our bad ones. If you did not have a good relationship with your sister, you cannot force your daughters to become close friends. Ultimately, whether your children’s personalities and temperaments will be compatible is up to them, not you.
In summary, sibling rivalry is a normal and wonderfully challenging aspect of family life. When handled correctly, children can be taught respect for one another. They can also learn that siblings are the only people in the world who share a lifetime of family history with each other. This is what family life is all about.
Filed Under: News