“He took my toy!”
“She pulled my hair!”
“I hate the baby! Can you please put her back?”
The cries echo through your home, each syllable grating on your nerves. At first, you try to be sweetly reasonable…but as the fighting, bickering, and whining continues and actually escalates, you not only get more shrill and unreasonable in your replies, you start seriously wondering WHY you had more than one child in the first place. If you’re dealing with an older child and a newborn addition to the family, it can be heartbreaking: they loved the baby when he or she was in your tummy and right after you brought the little bundle home. Now, once the older child has started realizing their “mommy time” has been effectively reduced, the green-eyed monster of jealously rears its ugly head.
So how do you defuse sibling rivalry?!
Whenever there’s more than one child, there’s the potential for those children to get on each other’s nerves, and on yours, too. For some reason, no matter how much your kids love each other, there are times when it seems they would cheerfully axe-murder each other. Sometimes, you want to hand them the axe.
How on earth do you put out these fires of brotherly and sisterly angst?
- 1. One-on-one time. This is vitally important, especially the more kids you have, but it’s also really hard to do. When you’re so stressed out it’s hard to find time to shower, much less to dote on one child alone, this suggestion is a bitter one to take. It’s a sad but true fact: when you have kids, the love multiplies…your time does not. Still, this is crucial to help each kid feel special, especially after a new baby is born, especially when the older child is very young, too. They need to know they’re special as individuals. Don’t kill yourself, though, this is simpler than it seems. Put down the laptop or phone for a few minutes; ignore the dirty laundry or dishes for half an hour…and sit down on the floor and play with your kid. When you go shopping, take one child with you by themselves, let them get a popsicle or something, and chat with them about stuff. Little things make big differences, and a smidgen of your time spent alone with your child will not only remind them how much they know you love them, it’ll remind you of why you love them in the first place, too.
- 2. Let them help. When you have a new baby around, big brother or sister often feels neglected and unimportant. So, give them something to do. No, don’t make them a drudge—give them some importance. For instance, let them push the stroller, or pick out the baby’s outfit, or let them watch the baby for a few minutes (safely) while you make a snack or run to the bathroom.
- 3. Emphasize their role. A newly-minted older sibling needs to know how important they are to their new baby sibling: they will be a role model, the one the younger child will always look up to and admire. Also, emphasize the things they can do that the baby can’t: jump and run around, play ball, go on play dates, play video games…Let them know they’re cool!
- 4. Don’t Disrupt Routine. As much as possible, that is. Young children find a lot of security in the routines of their life, and when they’re disrupted, they can become disoriented and grumpy…and they’ll blame the disruptor, the new baby. Although it’s impossible to completely keep things exactly the same as they were before the baby was born, try to maintain some normalcy. You and Dad may have to do some juggling to maintain order and make sure that the older kid gets his bath, snack, and story while at the same time accommodating the baby’s needs, but that’s what being a family is all about.
- 5. Don’t Compare. If your kids are older, don’t compare them to each other, or you run the risk of instilling insecurity and resentment. Emphasize the good points of each child, without comparing or contrasting them to each other.
- 6. Be Proactive. Kids with different personalities, especially when they’re closer together in age, shouldn’t be forced to spend a lot of time together, especially when they’re pre-teens (or, as I call them, the “prickly years.”). On long car trips and such, make sure each one is well-prepared with their own things to do, and give them their own space. No, this isn’t bowing to them, this is being a smart mom with some foresight. Same thing with younger kids: if you know they are prone to fight, be prepared, and give them their own tasks and entertainment separately when possible.
- 7. Do Group Stuff. No, this isn’t a contradiction of the above, it’s a planned event. Do a trust exercise with your family, once the kids are older, such as climbing rock walls, a ropes course, etc. Once you’ve learned how to work together better in stressful situations, do things like go camping or other trips where you spend more time together. The trick? Keeping busy, keeping focused, and keeping positive.