sib­ling bat­tles

we’ve got a so­lu­tion

Your Baby & Toddler - - Front Page - By Nikki Temkin By Peter Goldenthal

How would you feel if your spouse came home one night with a com­plete stranger and an­nounced, ‘’Dar­ling, I love you so much that I’ve brought an­other one just like you to live with us’’? Well, this is per­haps what it feels like to your child when a new sib­ling ar­rives. Ar­gu­ing, name call­ing, teas­ing, bickering, push­ing, bit­ing and hit­ting among your chil­dren can threaten your san­ity and disturb the peace of your home. “Yet, sib­ling ri­valry is nat­u­ral and will al­ways oc­cur to an ex­tent. How­ever, there are ways to man­age the con­flict so that it doesn’t make life un­bear­able,” points out clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Ruth Ancer.

Ref­er­ee­ing be­tween sib­lings or deal­ing with the chal­lenges of in­tro­duc­ing a new baby into the fam­ily can be ex­haust­ing but with re­spect and un­der­stand­ing, it’s pos­si­ble to cre­ate and main­tain a har­mo­nious home en­vi­ron­ment. “It’s a mis­take to not al­low chil­dren to ex­press nat­u­ral emo­tions like jeal­ousy,” says Ruth. “If the feel­ing is val­i­dated in­stead of re­pressed, there’s less chance that it will man­i­fest neg­a­tively.”


It’s nat­u­ral for sib­lings to go through ex­treme phases: ei­ther best friends or arch enemies. They might also feel love and hate to­wards each other si­mul­ta­ne­ously. For in­stance, an old­est child can tease your youngest but if any­one else tries to do it, his or her protective in­stinct will kick in. “It’s healthy to ac­knowl­edge that neg­a­tive feel­ings do not de­stroy the pos­i­tive feel­ings,” ex­plains Ruth. “Am­biva­lent feel­ings co­ex­ist in all re­la­tion­ships and must be al­lowed.”

Try to help your chil­dren com­mu­ni­cate and ar­tic­u­late their feel­ings, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. Some­times, in a younger child, nam­ing the feel­ing is all that’s needed at the time. Be­ing able to ask and an­swer the dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sions is im­por­tant in fam­i­lies. Pass­ing off state­ments such as “I wish my brother didn’t ex­ist!” as “ridicu­lous” or say­ing, “Of course you don’t feel like that,” isn’t con­struc­tive. Rather ac­cept that it’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble for sib­lings to adore each other all the time. You also might want to tell your child about a time that you pos­si­bly felt the same way as a child, and how you see things now.

“This can be dif­fi­cult if we have our own un­re­solved child­hood sib­ling is­sues,” says Ruth. If your older brother bul­lied you, then you might iden­tify strongly with your youngest child. You could also be ig­nor­ing cer­tain things or even mak­ing ex­cuses for them be­cause it just seems eas­ier. So, when you’re told: “Ruby gets what­ever she wants,” it may very well be true. Be will­ing to re­flect, talk with other par­ents and hone your par­ent­ing skills.


“Chil­dren must be taught that they can feel an emo­tion but not al­ways act on it,” says Ruth. Although sib­lings may fight, phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion or pas­sive ag­gres­sion (hug­ging too tightly, bit­ing, hit­ting, push­ing) as well as ver­bal ag­gres­sion (name call­ing, swear­ing) is never ac­cept­able. Bound­aries need to be clearly set. Lay guide­lines, as in: “Some­times your brother wants to be alone with his friends. When that hap­pens, you can’t

throw his Lego down the stairs. You have a choice: ask a friend over or find some­thing to play with on your own.”

If your child’s strug­gling with a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion, then dis­tract them with some­thing that in­ter­ests them. Find al­ter­nate ways for your chil­dren to vent rage, like hit­ting a tree with a stick or tear­ing up or scrib­bling over a pic­ture. If your older child is at fault, talk about their be­hav­iour but don’t em­bar­rass them by scold­ing them in front of each other. En­cour­age chil­dren to sort out prob­lems them­selves. If you’re tempted to in­ter­vene in small squab­bles, step back and see if they can re­solve things on their own. How­ever, if emo­tions are run­ning high they prob­a­bly need your help to fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tion.


Whin­ing and clingi­ness can be a cry for at­ten­tion. “Spend one on one time with each of your chil­dren out of the house, if you can, to pre­vent them feel­ing dis­placed. Tak­ing this ‘spe­cial time’ fre­quently and pre­dictably is so im­por­tant,” says Ruth. Es­pe­cially when there’s a new baby. Even 15 min­utes of time spent alone with you is pre­cious to your child whether it’s just chat­ting or read­ing a book.

Help your kids feel more se­cure about their place in the fam­ily by fo­cus­ing on their in­di­vid­ual strengths as much as pos­si­ble and giv­ing them re­as­sur­ance when it’s needed. “Em­pha­sise that like a bal­loon, love ex­pands – they don’t have to share the love that you have for them,” ad­vises Ruth. Tak­ing time out to have fun as a fam­ily, whether it’s an out­ing to the lion park or toss­ing a ball around out­side, shows your kids that they can have fun to­gether.


A new sib­ling shifts a child’s en­tire world, and he’s ac­tu­ally al­lowed to feel a bit over­whelmed by this, say the ex­perts. The more their feel­ings are recog­nised the less chance of it man­i­fest­ing later as ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour. “If the feel­ings that arise are not ver­balised, your kids could end up tak­ing th­ese deep-seated is­sues with them into adult­hood,” warns Ruth.

Re­mem­ber that the fam­ily unit is a mi­cro­cosm in which one per­son can­not al­ways be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion or al­ways get what he or she wants. This is a con­cept ev­ery child needs to learn. “In this way, sib­ling re­la­tion­ships pre­pare us for in­ter­ac­tion with the real world,” says Ruth. It presents a healthy chal­lenge and an op­por­tu­nity for chil­dren to im­prove so­cial skills such as shar­ing and ne­go­ti­at­ing. “It’s es­sen­tial to be con­scious of all feel­ings and re­alise that they are all real,” she ex­plains. Re­mem­ber that un­pleas­ant emo­tions are part of be­ing hu­man. It’s im­pos­si­ble and un­healthy to try and shield your kids from sib­ling ri­valry. “Don’t de­spair not get­ting it right. Par­ents are learn­ing too and we can only con­tinue to do our best day by day.”

En­cour­age your chil­dren to voice how they’re feel­ing: “I know it hurts you when your sis­ter won’t let you play in her room,” for ex­am­ple.

Con­sider a weekly fam­ily meet­ing to air is­sues and come up with com­pro­mises.

Give out small re­wards for good be­hav­iour to­wards each other.

Split up into child-par­ent pairs for a day to ease ten­sion.

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