“Sibling rivalry” is cliché enough to be almost a joke—but few parents are inclined to laugh when it’s their two (or more) children squabbling over who got one more teaspoon of ice cream. Even if you didn’t, and don’t, care that much for your own siblings, it’s hard not to take it personally when your offspring don’t automatically love each other as much as you love each of them.
There are ways to influence the status quo away from rivalry, though.
Here are a few ideas for your classroom:
As soon as you know you’re expecting a second baby, explain to your older child how babies need everything done for them, and what’s likely to change in your everyday lives. Kids are most amenable to the new “big brother/sister” position when you emphasize the advantages of being older and more independent—and when you let them help out in age-appropriate, fun ways. Also, this is a great time to introduce to them to the idea that this will most likely be the longest and one of the most important relationships of your entire life.
Constantly harping on “She’s your sister and you have to love her” almost guarantees that siblings will grow up despising each other. You can’t generate positive feelings through negative pressure.
In most cases, siblings will work out their own differences of opinion—and conclude on a note of mutual respect—if you decline to get involved. Adult-dictated “solutions” have a way of generating worse rivalry in the future, as kids learn to see every minor disagreement as one more opportunity to get Mom on their side against the “enemy.” (Or as one more proof that “little brother’s sole purpose in life is to enlist allies in a conspiracy to make my life miserable.”) If you feel you must do something, send both parties to time-out until they cool down, without implying either is right or wrong.
It’s not only the blatant “Why can’t you be like your brother?” comparisons that fuel resentment and jealousy. If one child stands out as the natural scholar you wished you were—or resembles the cousin who bullied you mercilessly—your attitude can assert itself in a thousand subtle ways. And the kids will sense it.
Occasionally, a parent goes to the opposite extreme. As one woman put it, “My mother constantly nagged us to downplay our natural talents ‘or your sister will feel bad because she isn’t as good.’
Mom meant well, but we girls both grew up with serious inhibitions about putting forth real effort—and without particularly warm feelings toward each other.”
A better way to dodge the comparison trap is to organize a series of family meetings around the theme “Find Your Own Best Self.” Let everyone take turns answering such questions as:
Clarifying each family member’s passions and goals (including your own) encourages everyone to appreciate other family members and themselves as special individuals with valuable contributions to make. And people who value themselves have no need to regard others as rivals.