It’s every parent’s dream: you have a family full of happy kids who entertain each other, learn from each other, and love each other.
However, the reality is that, at one time or another, those loving siblings are actually throwing toys at each other in the back of the minivan. You’re at your wit’s end, threatening to “turn this car around” or “cancel the vacation” if the kids don’t get along.
Sibling rivalry is as normal as it is frustrating. However, there are a few simple pieces of advice that may keep you sane, your kids content, and your travel plans intact.
New Additions – New Rivals
Once an only child becomes a big brother or big sister, it’s likely that there will be some sort of jealousy as that child vies for his parent’s attention. “Sibling rivalry is a normal part of having a brother or sister,” says Nerissa Bauer, Behavioral Pediatrician and Assistant Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Dr. Bauer continues: “Sibling rivalry describes the jealousy or competitiveness that often comes about between siblings. It can show itself in the form of feelings, verbal, or physical aggression.” She says that it’s extremely commonplace for these types of feelings to develop, as all children want attention and affection from their parents.
For Shelly Slade, sibling rivalry started as soon as she brought her twins home to meet their big brother. “Matthew had just turned two before Josh and Jenna were born, and it was definitely an adjustment for him. He was used to our undivided attention.” Shelly says that at his age, Matthew wasn’t as vocal about his feelings, but his jealousy was present in other ways.
Sibling rivalry can happen at any age/stage of development, but is more likely to occur some time after the birth of a sibling. Dr. Bauer explains that “after the birth of a new baby, the older sibling may show signs of regression—such as bedwetting when previously dry, talking or acting like a baby to get mother's attention, clinginess, or aggression towards the parent or sibling.”
Coping with Sibling Rivalry
While the experience can be frustrating, parents should recognize that the root cause of sibling rivalry is the feeling their child has of not being important or loved. As such, parents should be sure to provide the child verbal reassurance about the fact that they will always love them and that make time for him/her, explains Dr. Bauer.
Secondly, it is important for parents to celebrate the strengths and individuality of each of their children. “Remember, each person is unique with their own set of talents, abilities and skills,” says Dr. Bauer. “Each member of the family should be celebrated for their own strengths -- this will help alleviate some of the jealousy or competition that is typical of sibling rivalry,” she concludes.
Lastly, parents should recognize that, like other stages your child goes through, sibling rivalry is completely normal, and will get better over time. Shelly agrees that sibling rivalry does get better naturally. “It seems that as the kids get older and more interested in their own activities, sibling rivalry seems to be less and less of an issue,” she explains.
So parents, take note: sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up with a brother or sister, and it will pass! Stay calm, keep everything in perspective, and know that your children will eventually develop a special bond that will last a lifetime.