In my last article, I shared what parents should know about sibling rivalry and how it can manifest in different children. Here are some suggestions I have shared with parents over the years to help ease and manage sibling rivalry between children.
1. Space your children, if possible, three years apart. This gives one child enough time to leave your knee, as he or she reaches for independence, which is the best time to put another child on your knee.
2. Even though there are times in all of our lives when one child is easier than the other, or that we see something of ourselves or our mate in one child or the other, discipline yourself not to show any signs of outward favoritism.
3. Parents must parent. This means to step into your adult and even override exhaustion to give each child some private time with Mom and Dad.
4. Keep your child in the loop. Explain to your child when a new child is about to be born, and invest them in the process of how to welcome the new baby and care for it.
5. Make your older child your ally. With a wink and a nod, this child can help you shop, choose toys, and even help select special foods for your new baby. If you bring your older child into the process, he or she will be more likely to participate with good will.
6. Never make one child responsible for the other. No babysitting.
7. Never make your children share their toys. I can hear the ooh’s and ah’s out there, but what belongs to your children is their possession and only if it is their choice to share, should it be brought into a common area.
8. Never discount, demean, or embarrass your older children. Never tell them to be a big girl or boy, to act grown-up, or to be understanding. They are children and they have feelings too. Instead, confirm their feelings with sentences such as, “of course you feel this way, I understand completely.” Empathy goes a long way towards cooperation.
9. Never compare your children, their grades, their behavior, or the way they look. No competition, ever. No family games where one can win and one can lose. This is a family and not a sports arena, and children should be raised in collaboration not competition. Never tell one child you love that child better than the other because they are behaving better. This is a form of splitting that can turn one child against the other forever.
10. Never tell one child to do things the same way the other one does.
11. Never discuss one child with the other. You don’t like it when someone talks behind your back; follow the same courteous behavior with your children.
12. Don’t manipulate. Manipulation is humiliation and makes your children feel undervalued and they will not trust you, themselves, or others if you diminish their self-esteem.
13. Be fair. This is one of the most essential rules. Your child is watching you and is very cognizant of even-handedness, which, in his/her mind, translates to being loved equally.
14. Practice and rehearse communication through listening. Let your children tell you how they feel. If you listen with empathy, they will tell you everything, and together you can find ways to problem solve. Invest your children in the process.
15. Finally, be prepared – when holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings occur, think ahead and find ways as a family to come up with some rules, a plan that can help nip in the bud any of the regular stressful patterns with which you as a family are familiar, and can handle with love.