It’s a common scenario for a former only child to pout and cry at the notion of a sibling. With the idea that their toys, parents’ love, and attention, and even physical space will be forever divided, life, as they know it, is over. Many times, this early onset jealousy naturally goes away as the years go by. Other times, it intensifies. In rare cases, it never exists. Still, whatever the sibling relationship is, it’s common for it to be characterized by a certain degree of rivalry.
They say that there is no stronger rivalry—and no stronger bond—than that of siblings. Why is that? According to Psychology Today, “there is a consensus among clinicians and developmental psychologists that the sibling bond is complicated, fluid, and influenced by many factors. Parental treatment, genetics, gender, life events, ethnic and generational patterns, and people and experiences outside the family all contribute to the success or failure of a particular sibling connection.”
Judy Dunn’s work, at the forefront of sibling studies, reveals that from the first year, children can identify how they are regarded and treated in relation to their siblings. These observations on family dynamics consequently shape the relationship among siblings without them even realizing it. So, how can parents ease the sibling rivalry to relieve animosity and competition? Here are a few recommendations:
Love Each Child for Who They Are
The saying, “love an imperfect person, perfectly”, doesn’t only apply to our romantic relationships—it applies to our children as well. Here are a few ways to show your kids that you accept and love them for what makes them unique:
- Don’t play favorites
- Don’t compare them to their siblings (or to other children for that matter)
- Dedicate one-on-one time to each child
- Encourage them to express themselves in whichever way works for them
Give them the Tools to Resolve Their Issues
Showing them, by example, how to resolve conflict will not only ease sibling rivalry but also equip them with valuable tools to manage personal and professional relationships. Practice active listening and problem-solving by providing a framework they can use when a conflict arises. Here is a simple framework:
- Establish the issue.
- Agree on the issue.
- Brainstorm solutions.
- Agree on a solution.
- Step in when necessary, but also be prepared to ignore a few minor squabbles.
When children practice putting themselves in other people’s shoes, they will not only have a better understanding of the world around them but they will also be able to wrap their head around why others have different privileges and circumstances. By understanding and respecting their differences, they learn to arrive at apparent conclusions such as, “My brother gets to stay out one hour later than me because he is older” or “I get to watch TV because I finished my homework, but my sister doesn’t because she is studying for a test”.
This also goes for being sensitive to gender differences. We must empower each child to reach their highest potential regardless of their gender, but also consider the intricacies and differences of life as a girl or a boy.
Foster Team Spirit
Above everything else, you want your children to have each other’s backs. Here are a few ways to encourage collaboration:
Share the Chores
Assign each child chores appropriate to their age and ability, and set them up for success. Demonstrate how each of them can contribute to a bigger project. For example, show how loading the dishwasher and taking out the trash helps keep the house clean. Sometimes, they can collaborate on shared chores as well.
Give each child a role to play in family activities based on their talents. Do you have a creative genius? Have them think of fun and innovative activities for the whole family. An extremely organized child? Have them help you pack the snacks or luggage.
It’s true that sibling dynamics are complex and oftentimes frustrating. Nevertheless, being proactive in supporting their relationship with each other will make a huge difference in dissipating sibling rivalry and developing healthy, long-lasting relationships.