Psychologist Eleanor Mackey shares tips on how to deal with sibling rivalry.
Very early on I posted about getting your child ready for a new sibling. In our house that went fairly well, but now we are on to a bigger challenge: sibling rivalry. To put it simply, L does not currently enjoy being a big sister. C is now 9 months old, which means she is everywhere and into everything, particularly L’s toys.
Now, I will admit that this has had a silver lining. L is terrified that C will get into her things and “ruin” them by putting them in her mouth. Therefore, we have never had a neater house. L cleans up her room and makes sure there is nothing on the floor that her sister will get!
The silver lining aside, this has been tough on me as a mom to hear L say, “I don’t like having a baby sister” and “I don’t like C.” She can be rough with her sister and grabs toys out of her hands. Granted, in L’s eyes, C is simply taking away parents’ attention and her interactions are not very rewarding for a 3 year old. I am hoping that L will derive some enjoyment from her sister in years to come, but for now, I struggle to find ways to help her adjust and to improve her ability to share and be gentle with her sister.
To answer this question, I reached out to my colleagues who have been in the same situation to get advice. The feedback I got back has been helpful for our family. Here are some of the tips:
- This is normal and this too shall pass!
- Encourage and praise good behavior:
- We have had great success making a little prize bag (stickers, barrettes, crayons, etc) and then a sticker chart where L earns stickers for being gentle, kind, or sharing with C. Once she has earned 5 stickers, she gets to pick a prize.
- Make special time with the older sibling:
- Each parent should aim to have 10 minutes of “special time” with the older child on a daily basis or at least every other day. During this time, the child should be allowed to choose the activity (within reason) and the parent should be there to support, encourage, and do as little guiding as possible.
- Read books that recognize the older child’s experience, for example:
- Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
- Big Sister by Marianne Richmond
- Berenstain Bears and the Baby Sister by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Using these techniques, we have definitely made some progress. L still doesn’t love having her sister invade her room, but she gives many more kisses and hugs, and takes pride in taking care of her sister. Yes, sometimes she gives her a kiss and then says, “now I get a sticker!” but regardless of the motivation source, she is being kinder and gentler and that makes for a much happier family and sets the stage for more positive future interactions.