Sibling rivalry can be a force of nature. It’s amazing how quickly siblings can make the switch from friends to sworn enemies and back again. But if sibling rivalry gets out of hand, it can be damaging even into adulthood: 1 in 3 adults call their relationships with their siblings “distant.” Every parent hopes for close relationships between their children. The question is, how do we prevent sibling rivalry from getting in the way?
Psychology Today quotes “From One Child to Two” author Judy Dunn as saying that children “are far more socially sophisticated than we ever imagined.” Children as young as 15 months old can perceive differences in maternal attention between siblings. As early as 18 months siblings are able to “comfort, hurt, and exacerbate each other’s pain.” Even so, young children are more able to pick up on these subtle differences than to understand what is causing their jealousy.
Labeling, even with positive intentions, can intensify sibling rivalry. Thinking of one child as “the smart one” or “the athletic one” can put that child in a box and cause jealousy among siblings. Negative labeling is even more dangerous, because it can lead to the child (and their siblings) believing the labels.
Sometimes a little personal space can help siblings get along better. The University of Michigan’s Development and Behavior Resources says sibling rivalry can be caused by competition to “define who they are as individuals.” Think about ways to create space for this. For example, if kids tend to squabble over toys, Parenting Magazine recommends making sure that each child has some toys that are theirs alone. Setting aside time with each child is another way to combat jealousy with some one-on-one attention. Try making time for each child on a regular basis and talking with them about what’s going on in their lives. Even a few minutes at bedtime can be enough.
Talk It Out
Giving a child the chance to express why they are jealous can make all the difference. PBS Kids has some discussion questions from the child’s perspective that could be great conversation starters. There are also several children’s books that focus on getting along. The New York Times recommends these.
Sibling rivalry can be difficult for families to manage. Just remember that it’s often a way of expressing a need for attention. And don’t give up hope! Squabbles between siblings are going to happen, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t love each other. But putting in a little extra effort can help lay a strong foundation for adult relationships.We hope that these tips help the next time you see sibling rivalry in your family!