Sibling Rivalries: A Positive Approach to a Negative Situation
I have news for you – good ol’ sibling rivalries start as soon as the baby is out of your belly and into the real world. Your older child may be too distracted by the commotions of having one additional family member coming home from the hospital in the beginning, but as soon as the novelty wears off, jealousy starts. Now, instead of managing your relationship with your toddler, you also have to manage your relationship with your baby as well as the relationship between your children. Don’t pull your hair out yet! K.C. Dreisbach, a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, is here help iron out the kinks in sibling rivalries!
Welcome to another day on our visit with Betty and The Terrific Five on the “Trials of the Working Parent” Blog Book Tour, and Part 6 of our multi-day, Q&A Series! If you missed yesterday’s post, check it out here to read about managing anger in young children. We’ve covered so much so on our journey together, and today’s topic is a popular one! Please keep in mind our “foundation” as you read through today’s answer (i.e. the complexity of the questions, and my definition of “discipline”). So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
Question: Do you have any tips on how to manage positive parenting with two kids when there seems to be fights and jealousy between the kids all the time?
Answer: This question is a hard one to answer because the answer depends on a lot of variables like “How old are your children?” “What is the age gap between them?” or “What are their genders?” Answers to these questions can help me understand the dynamic going on in your family and between your children. I don’t want you to leave with nothing useful, however. So, I think we should look at jealousy between siblings in general. Sibling rivalry is a fairly common occurrence. I think all siblings encounter sibling rivalry in some shape at some point in time. Parents often struggle with this, not understand why their kids are jealous of one another. I think it’s helpful to take a step back and try to understand why our children might experience jealousy to begin with.
Let’s take a minute and think about an only child who has to learn to share his or her world with a sibling. Parents often times tell me that they treat their children “the same,” but I beg to differ. I’m willing to bet that there is no way that you treat your children the same on every account. Furthermore, there is no way that your parenting style hasn’t changed in some way after you’ve had your second (third, fourth, etc.) child. Your firstborn’s life dramatically changed when another baby came into the picture. This change then prompted a tidal wave of emotions, insecurities, anxieties, and fears for your firstborn child. When another child enters into the family home, there are many factors that change. Let’s look at some of them:
- Parental Resources– This is probably the most important one! When another child comes along, a parent’s time is now divided among all the children, not just the first child. Think of this like a pie. If there is one child, that kid gets the whole pie to themselves! If there are 2 kids, now that child only gets half the pie, and so on! Wouldn’t you be bummed if you had to share your pie with some newbie?!?
- Financial Resources- Similar to the first point, financial resources are the same. Your extra money that you could use to buy your child that cool new toy now has to be split between 2 kids! This means that the “cool new toy” might be out of the budget. To put this into perspective, let’s say you would get paid an extra $100 for doing an extra 4 hours of work at your job. Then, a new employee arrives and starts sharing these extra hours with you. When you get your paycheck, you notice that you’re only getting $50 instead of $100, even though you are still putting in the extra 4 hours. When you question your boss, your boss tells you that there is only an extra $100 in the budget, and since you both (i.e. you and the new employee) are doing an extra 4 hours of work, you need to split the money 50/50. Now, I know this would never happen in real life. It’s against the law! So why do we make our kids do it?
- Physical Space & Property- How many siblings come to learn that they have to “share” their toys, or “share” their room? Toys and space become valuable commodities! Can you imagine finding out that you have to share your bedroom with your in-laws? This might be something you would be less than happy about. Can you say, “awkward!”
Having to deal with any one of these issues would be upsetting to us as adults. Now imagine your child who has to experience this as a reality! It’s no wonder why they get cranky about their new sibling! So now that we’ve gained some empathy and have a better understanding of why jealousy tends to erupt when there are multiple children in a family, let’s discuss some ways to help ease the tension. In my new book, “Trials of the Working Parent,” I dedicate a whole chapter to discussing the importance of quality time. It is my belief that quality time is one of the best protective factors against sibling rivalries and jealousy, and when you have multiple kids, there are a few “types” of quality time you should think about squeezing in.
- Enjoy Family Time- I think this one is pretty obvious. As parents, we know it is important to spend time together as a family. Creating positive memories with our children helps to develop a positive life narrative that our children will remember as they grow older. This helps to increase positive self-esteem, a sense of family unity, and a vibrant childhood that sets the foundation for that individual’s adult life.
- Enjoy 1-on-1 Time- This one is also obvious but a little harder to manage. Spending time as a family together is key, but to help reduce or eliminate jealousy, 1-on-1 time with each child is going to play a critical role. This is especially true for young children. Our kids thrive off of parental time and attention. If they can’t get it from you in a positive way, you can expect them to start acting out in not-so-positive ways! Try spending some alone time with each child in the family. You might not be able to manage this daily, but try a more manageable goal, like weekly 1-on-1 time. It doesn’t have to be long either. For example, I take my 4-year-old daughter upstairs to bed about 15 minutes before my husband brings up our baby. During these 15 minutes, I cuddle with her, talk to her about her day, and read to her. These 15 minutes let her know that she is still a highlight in my life, even if there is a new baby on the block!
- Encourage Quality Time Between Siblings- As your children grow older, encourage them to spend time together. Let them go to the movies together, shop together, or go on a ride at a theme park together without you. Let them interact with one another in ways that establish positive memories with one another as friends. When your children are younger, encourage them to play together, and be sure to praise them for getting along and playing nicely. If their interests are different, try to engage them in activities they can both enjoy, like puppet shows, decorating the home for a holiday, or doing some sort of craft. You know your kids best. Try to find common ground between them, and then provide ample opportunities for them to do these things together. You should still provide supervision, but be a bystander and allow them to work through things together as a team.
***Note: For ideas on how to squeeze in quality time in your crazy busy schedule, be sure to check out my new book, “Trials of the Working Parent.”
Now that we’ve discussed the protective factors against sibling rivalries, let’s talk about the things we do as parents that (accidentally) contribute towards this problem. Parents with multiple kids tend to engage in “favoritism” without even realizing it. This tends to lead to an increase in jealousy and aggression between siblings. Don’t be too quick to deny engaging in favoritism, and don’t be too quick to kick yourself for doing it either. Favoritism happens! It doesn’t make you a bad parent… it makes you an honest one. Our children have different personalities, and some personalities are easier to get along with than others! It’s only natural that you would have a little more of a liking towards a child who shares similar interests as you. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t mean that you don’t love your other children OR that you love one more than the other. I am of the belief that you can love your children equally, but enjoy the company of one child more than another simply because of how your personalities come together. Much of this has to do with attachment styles and how attachment develops in the early months after giving birth. That’s a Q&A Series all on its own, so we won’t go there today. Instead, I want to help you learn to navigate this situation like a pro! I already told you how to increase protective factors against jealousy. Now let’s talk about how we can change ourselves, as parents, to help minimize the impact that favoritism can have in causing jealousy.
- Too Forgiving to the Favored Child- When you have a child that you seem to mesh with better, you are more likely to let them get away with things that you might not allow from your other children. This is something like having a “Double Standard.” The key here is to remain consistent across children. No one should get off scot-free!
- Too Harsh with the Other Child- Similar to the above point, you might be too firm with the child that you don’t meld as well with. I can’t tell you how many times I see one child being disciplined fairly harshly for a behavior, while the other child merely gets a finger wagged in his or her face. Just like above, you have to remain consistent across children.
- Comparisons between Children- This one is so easy to do without even realizing it. Do your very best to avoid comparing children in any way, shape, or form. Most parents are aware that comparing kids during discipline is not a wise choice (i.e. “Why can’t you behave more like your brother?”), but many will still compare while praising their children (i.e. “Good job Sweetie! See? When you behave like your brother does, you get rewarded too!”). We want to always remember that our children are different, with different strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them is like adding gasoline to hot coals. Nothing good will come out of it!
- Failure to Praise the Child- As more children are added into our families, the likelihood that you will praise your children (especially the one that tends to test your limits more often) becomes more difficult. This goes back to having less “parental resource” available (like energy!). You want to do your best to keep praising your kids when they do a good job or make an effort to meet your expectations. And if you have a child who struggles to meet your expectations, it is even more important that you constantly praise them for doing their best. This helps to motivate them to keep trying, even if they are falling short.
That’s all for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post and found it helpful! Be sure to check out my book, “Trials of the Working Parent” on Amazon, where you can learn more about managing life and raising young children who are happy, healthy, and well-balanced! Don’t forget to also follow me on Facebook to get updates on the Book Tour, and visit my website where you can subscribe for more helpful tips from me and information on future book releases!
See you all tomorrow for our last part of our Q&A Series, here, at The Terrific Five.
Guest Author Bio
K.C. Dreisbach is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Southern California. She has spent years in the field of mental health helping thousands of families achieve happy, healthy lives. Currently, she is a Clinical Supervisor for a non-profit agency working with troubled youth and their families. She is also the author of the new book, “Trials of the Working Parent.” In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with her two young children and husband.