we’ve got a solution
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.