We as parents hope our children will be lifelong friends and support each other, especially later in life when we will no longer be with them. However, their relationship during childhood may sometimes be characterized by rivalry and jealousy, especially when a new brother or sister joins the family. Sibling jealousy is natural and although we cannot make it disappear, there are some vital steps we can take to put it under control, improve sibling relationship and help an older brother or sister better deal with the arrival of a younger one.
1) The first and most important step to minimize sibling jealousy is to make siblings friends while the younger one is still in the womb. Simply try to” introduce” the unborn baby to his older brother or sister. Practically speaking, you should involve your child in the pregnancy as much of you can to prepare her for the arrival of a new member in the family. That includes showing her pictures of the baby in the womb, letting her feel his kickings and even initiate “conversations” between the two future siblings.
These actions will cause the fetus to recognize the voice of the older brother or sister after birth and at the same time will deepen the feelings the latter feels toward the unborn sibling.
2) Make the older child important so that she may feel her place in the family is still guaranteed despite the attention the newborn gets. The older child should be given a role of “helping the mother”(For example, when my younger baby boy switched to solid food, I let his older sister decide which first type of food would be given to him and I also let her, under my supervision, feed him in the first couple of times). In the short term, this role will reduce sibling jealousy. In the long term, it will instill a sense of lifelong responsibility in the older sibling towards the younger one.
3) Encourage your children to take care of one another right from the start. If one sibling is upset, ask the other to comfort her and lend her a sympathetic ear. If one gets injured, let the other help you to treat the wound. You can also encourage the older brother to teach the little one simple things, for example, how to whistle or how to tie shoelaces. This teaching will strengthen the bond between the two.
4) Educate your children to be empathetic – Your children should learn to respect others from an early age. They should be taught to follow the motto “Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thyself”. Apart from easing sibling jealousy, the ability to see things from others’ perspective will make them better human beings.
5) Turn your children into a team – Assign tasks to your children that necessitate cooperation (tidying their bedrooms, setting dinner table). Engaging in common tasks (and challenges) help people get along together.
6) Arrange routine family meetings in which you openly discuss sibling relationships. Allow each one of the siblings to raise the problems he or she may have regarding the others. Listen carefully to all the complaints and try to think together how to set things right.
7) Set clear limits to what is forbidden – Remember that you are a figure of authority for your children. As such, clearly define what is considered as unaccepted behavior. Teasing, insulting and hitting must not go unnoticed and need to be dealt with severely.
8) To a certain extent, let your children solve their differences – When it comes to minor quarrels, such as fighting over a toy, let your children get by themselves. Give them an ultimatum: If they don’t resolve the matter in 5 minutes, you will take the toy. Common problem solving is one of the best ways to create a sense of empathy and build mutual respect, which will help you minimize sibling jealousy and rivalry. Having said that, more severe cases of harassment or abuse will definitely require your immediate intervention. It is up to you to define when to become actively involved and when to step aside. You know your children best, so follow your own parental instincts.
9) Avoid drawing any comparisons between your children – Sometimes, parents unknowingly and unintentionally create sibling rivalry by comparing one child to another (“Why can’t you behave like your brother?”, “You should do as your sister did”). Each child is unique; each child has his own pluses and minuses. Comparison will only lead to frustration and may even lead to feelings of animosity within the family. You should compliment or scold your child regardless of your other children.
10) Surprisingly, equal attention is not necessarily the key to resolve sibling jealousy – Most parents tend to treat their children the same way giving them the same things on the same occasions. But the truth is that children prefer to be treated personally. Try to give every child the special attention he or she requires while maintaining an overall balance. The small details (He got this and she got that) are not important. By using this strategy, you will prevent your children from making comparisons and from wrongly feeling deprived.
A few final words
One of the most important things children do not always understand at an early age is that blood is thicker than water. Friends may come and go. Siblings stay close forever, even after their parents pass away. Don’t forget to convey this simple truth to your children…
Article was contributed by Samantha Fischer, a kindergarten teacher in Illinois – Chicago, and a mother to two lovely children