Sibling rivalry is not uncommon, but parents of multiples find it to be a stressful experience. As a mother of two and as someone who has two brothers and three sisters, I have gone through plenty of sibling strife. I know what it’s like to be in the middle of the rivalry, and I also know some ways to deal with it.
The most difficult age to cope with sibling rivalry is when children are toddlers, years commonly referred to as the terrible twos. This is when they are branching out in their independence and when they start seeing their possessions as only their possessions. It is difficult to deal with a rivaled toddler because his or her understanding of the consequences has not yet matured, thus decreasing the ways of handling the situation.
It is best to teach children at an early age how to respond to other kids. Not only is it beneficial to socialize children from infanthood, but it is also helpful to teach young children to be aware of others’ emotions, along with their own. When a child can identify anger, happiness, frustration or excitement, he or she can begin the growth in empathy. Sympathy, determination and other important qualities will have a head start in their formation. With these qualities comes the understanding of sharing (time, possessions and space) and the comprehension of the importance of sharing. Begin right away discussing any emotions that arise – “I am happy to see you.” “I know you are angry right now.” “Because you disobeyed, I am frustrated.” These are all examples of how to do just that. Through this practice, my 3-year-old son will now simply say, “Mommy, I’m mad.” He did not have to go through a temper tantrum to get that point across. Also, learning to apologize early is an excellent resource and will be plenty exercised throughout the years to come.
Create Individual Time for Everyone
It is imperative to make every child feel special and worthy of your time. When a toddler suddenly becomes an older brother or sister, jealousy can almost be expected. So when the newest bundle of joy shows up, be sure to plan out activities with each child separately, even if it’s just doing a craft together when the infant is taking a nap. This is not only for toddlers, but it can also be helpful for older kids. This will help lessen sibling jealousy.
Partake in Family Activities
Movie night and game night are common “family night” ideas. These are beneficial to all members of the family because they bring everyone together in one space. Take this time to have fun, to talk and to bond. If the rivalry starts to rear its ugly head, separate the child who started it for a moment to discuss why you don’t want that to happen during family time. If it’s an older child causing trouble, you can exercise your preferred method of punishment if need be. Other ideas for family activities are parks, the zoo, making dinner or dessert (or even gingerbread houses during the holidays), outside games or the beach.
Don’t Condone “Tattling”
Children of all ages have given tattling a try. It’s a normal thing for kids to experiment with. But don’t fall for the tattling behavior. When a child comes to you complaining about what so-and-so did, don’t just jump up and punish the child who is being tattled on. This will only reinforce the tattling. Children need to realize there will often be times in which something will upset them and that they need to learn how to deal with such situations appropriately. If the child being tattled on is doing something that requires attention, do not do any reprimanding or punishing in front of the “tattler.” Be warned, you will most likely experience plenty of tattling during the terrible twos.
Let a Frustrated Child Have a Space to Calm Down
Through plenty of experience, I have realized children need space and time to calm down just as adults do. When children throw a temper tantrum, it is because something is upsetting them and they don’t know how to handle it. An adult has grasped how to react in public with upsetting news or situations, but a child (especially toddlers) have not yet learned the most appropriate reactions. At home, designate the bedroom as a place to calm down in times of a temper tantrum. Whenever a child starts to act up, tell him or her to go to his or her bedroom until calmed down. If the child comes out before the tantrum is over, resend him or her back to the room. If a temper tantrum occurs in public, politely and calmly remove yourself and your child to the restroom and wait for the child to calm down. I’ve done this with my son since he was a year old. Now, at 3 years old, he sends himself to his room whenever he is getting too flustered to act appropriately. When he feels calmed down, he comes out and apologizes to me. This outlet has been most beneficial through his terrible twos and threes.