How to Handle Sibling Rivalry
Brothers and sisters are usually each other’s first playmates, helping each other discover the world and develop social skills. Outside of their parents, they are each other’s greatest supports and they have a natural love for one another. It all sounds lovely, but all of us who’ve ever been on a family road trip know the truth. Sibling rivalry is real!
I can still remember knock-down, drag-outs with my younger sister and today, as a mom of two, I worry about the eventual bickering that’s to come. That’s right, although my kids are only 2 and 5, we’ve been able to keep jealously at bay. They play together nicely, take care of one another and my oldest sometimes gives in to her baby brother’s demands.
So far their relationship has been somewhat magical. I know that probably won’t last forever, but for now we’re taking every step to help them develop a strong sibling bond so when the tough times come they’ll hopefully bend and not break their relationship.
“We know from longitudinal studies that if kids start off their relationship with a sibling on a positive note, it’s more likely to continue positively over time,” says Laurie Kramer, a University of Illinois researcher who recently published a study on sibling relationships.
Kramer says variables such as gender and age difference don’t make much of a difference between siblings.
“It’s not all that important whether you’re spaced closer together or farther apart, or if you have a brother or a sister,” Kramer said.
“What’s really much more important are the social behaviors that children learn in their early years that they can use to develop a positive relationship with a sibling. That’s why it’s important for parents to encourage siblings to be engaged with one another and develop a relationship where there is mutual respect, cooperation and the ability to manage problems.”
So how do we instill those problem-solving, relationship-building skills? Experts say there are a few things parents can do.
FEEL THE LOVE
One of our primary roles as parents is to be role models for our children. They not only mimic us, but learn from us. This means if we display anger, competitiveness or dominance with our partner (or to others), our tots are liable to pick up this behavior too. Similarly, the more love, care and affection for each other and for our children that we show, the more our toddlers learn to act this way with each other.
COACH THE TEAM
Toddlers are naturally independent and like testing boundaries, which means they’ll compete or battle sometimes. But what doesn’t come naturally to them is knowing how to resolve conflict in a loving or respectful way. Because of this, your littles will need some coaching in how to be more loving. You can do this by demonstrating teamwork. Games and activities that involve the whole family are critical in developing loving sibling relationships. Young kids love playing with their parents, so having all the family cooperating to have fun or to complete an activity is a fantastic way to build love and respect.
KEEP THE PEACE
Despite your best efforts, still expect battles and fights to occur. These sibling tiffs can actually be healthy, allowing your kids to learn to express emotions and feelings. Immediately punishing or separating children can lead to suppressed feelings and to harboring anger, which can then erode a loving sibling relationship over time. Instead, try to help them work it out and when everyone is happier encourage your children to show each other affection and share a hug now that things are better. Experiencing this after a battle is an important part in fostering that loving relationship.