Sibling rivalry can often start from the day a new baby is brought home. The older child goes from being the centre of attention and the youngest member of the family, to being the older sibling who then has to share their parents and the attention that they get from them. Developmentally it can be a lot to handle, and behaviour can change dramatically if a child fears that this new baby could replace them in some way.
Aggressive behaviour can be common, however, regressive behaviour such as bed wetting can also happen. This is often a child’s subconscious attempt to re-establish themselves in a dependent role with their parents. Either way, a new baby joining the family can have a huge impact and it’s important for us to be aware of this so that we can minimise any negative repercussions.
Here are 5 ways to reduce sibling rivalry:
Take action before the baby arrives
By this I don’t just mean preparing the older child for the baby’s arrival. I also mean preparing family and friends for the moment that they meet the baby too and making them aware of how you want it to be.
A big issue can be that the older child feels pushed out. Quite often, when people visit a newborn, they will fuss around the baby and give it their undivided love and doting attention. This is completely normal, however if we think of this from the older child’s perspective it is actually quite tough. They have gone from having all of the attention on them to then having a little person arriving and stealing the limelight.
When my son was born, I spoke to every family member and friend and asked them to essentially ignore the baby and to go straight to my 2-year-old when they came to visit. I wanted her to feel like she was still the priority and that she was special, so I asked everyone to ask her about ‘her new baby’ and to let her show them our new arrival. This way she still had lots of attention and she also became an important role in the baby’s life by introducing the people that mattered the most to him. If anyone asked what we wanted for the baby as a gift, I also asked them to buy my little girl a present rather than buying one for the baby. This worked a treat because she was not only excited to have a new baby brother to show off to everyone, but she was also getting gifts for being a new big sister.
Give time to both children
As children get older, they often fight for attention. By giving each child a set amount of undivided time and attention each day their need to fight for it will reduce. If a child feels seen and appreciated, they are less likely to feel threatened or insecure. Label the time (for example ‘Mummy and Noah time’ and explain to the children that this is something you will be doing with each of them every day. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, they will love this focused time with you, and it will make them feel special. Make sure there are no distractions like phones or TVs and just give 100% of yourself to them for the set time you have agreed.
Having set family time all together is important too. Playing games, eating a nice meal around the table, going to the park and having a picnic are all ways in which you can all bond and make memories together. Times like this where both children get your undivided attention allow them to make positive memories together whilst still feeling that connection with you and each other.
Every child is an individual and has their own strengths and weaknesses. When a person feels inadequate or insecure, they are more likely to overcompensate, fight for attention and/or try to prove themselves. If each child feels valued and appreciated for who they are, they are less likely to pull each other down. Quite often, if a person is acting negatively towards another person, it is linked to an insecurity inside themselves. By celebrating each child’s individuality, you build their self-esteem and confidence and reduce the chance of them craving attention and approval.
There are always two sides to a story. When siblings are fighting it is important to hear both sides. Once the situation has calmed down give each child the chance to tell you what has happened and then encourage each child to see the situation from their sibling’s perspective. Ask them questions like:
- When you did that, how do you think that made them feel?
- How did you feel when…?
- What could you have done differently that might have had a better outcome?
- Can you understand that when you did…, your sibling felt…?
By listening to both sides, you are making each child feel valued and heard, but you are also encouraging them both to empathise and see the bigger picture. Quite often it’s the child who reacts and lashes out that gets punished. However, there is usually a reason for this. By calmly talking though the whole situation you can unearth some things that need addressing and help both siblings to be more aware of their actions and reactions.
At the end of the day, siblings will always fight. However, if this is a constant occurrence, it’s important to get to the bottom of why. Children crave attention, acceptance and love. As parents, life is fast paced, and we are constantly juggling a million things at once. It can be easy to go on autopilot dealing with day-to-day routines and chores. However, it’s important to remember what truly matters and to take time to bond with our children individually and as a whole family. By doing this, even if it’s just 10 minutes per day, the need for our children to fight for attention will decrease and this will have a ripple effect with how they interact and engage with each other.
About the author:
Stacey Kelly is a former French and Spanish teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box. After becoming a mum, Stacey left her teaching career and started writing and illustrating storybooks to help support her children through different transitional stages like leaving nursery and starting school. Seeing the positive impact of her books on her children’s emotional wellbeing led to Early Years Story Box being born. Stacey has now created 35 storybooks, all inspired by her own children, to help teach different life lessons and to prepare children for their next steps. She has an exclusive collection for childcare settings that are gifted on special occasions like first/last days, birthdays, Christmas and/or Easter and has recently launched a new collection for parents too. Her mission is to support as many children as she can through storytime and to give childcare settings an affordable and special gifting solution that truly makes a difference.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Telephone: 07765785595