One child is hard work but two, that is a whole other ball game. Sure, there are various trials and tribulations to having both an only child and having siblings but, as a parent, siblings come with a whole other load of challenges in the form of sibling rivalry. As soon as you introduce another child to the equation you are facing the possibility of jealousy, fights and competitive behaviour. How do you get ahead of the curve? How do you retain those feelings of brotherly love? What techniques can you put into practice when dealing with sibling rivalry?
Please note, all the advice given below is from my own experience raising boys. I am in no way a psychologist or medical professional of any kind. I’m just a busy, stay at home mum trying to make it out alive.
1. Positive Attitude
Our first port of call is of course POSITIVITY. Children replicate our behaviour. They see what we do and recognise that as an appropriate way to act. We are their role models so the most important thing to remember when dealing with siblings is to remain positive although, sometimes, it’s difficult to choose head over heart.
This weekend, I had a slight mad mum moment. The result: I now have a bandage on my wrist. Sometimes I think Tink might be justified in his modified version of Wheels on the Bus: “My mum’s cuckoo crazy, ALL DAY LONG.”
False Sense of Security
Saturday actually started off unexpectedly. The boys honestly took me by surprise. After a week of horrendous behaviour I was anticipating a fight, especially since their Dad was working so, when I was met by two little boys who were playing together happily, I was led into a false sense of security. P.S. Never let your guard down; the second you do the wolves attack or, in this case, the cubs.
One second I was faced with Dr Jekyll, the next Mr Hyde joined the party. Pup is a mischievous wee toad and has taken a liking to chucking anything he can get his mucky, little paws on, down the stairs. You can usually find Tink hiding round the corner, egging him on. This is sibling rivalry at its best. One brother will ALWAYS try to implicate the other.
Force of Destruction
Just like Mr Hyde, Pup is his own force of destruction. You could not count on one hand, the number of times DIY Daddy has utilised his skills to repair the walls. This time it was a massive bag of Lego. Channelling the Hulk, I grabbed the bag and went to haul it back over the banister. In my rage, I stupidly missed and smashed my wrist into the railing. Learn from me! Try to channel Bruce Banner and NOT his alter ego.
Dealing with sibling rivalry is definitely an emotional rollercoaster. If you don’t stay in control of your emotions… Well I’m a prime example of what can happen. Don’t communicate with rage. Instead, try and stay positive, keep calm and never, EVER let your guard down.
Communication is certainly the key to achieving a positive attitude. Being able to communicate with both children equally and fairly is certainly a challenge. Sometimes I have lost my cool and assigned blame but, if you don’t think logically about each situation, YOU can have a detrimental impact on sibling rivalry.
My Hubby and I try to separate the boys and have conversations with each to establish who is at fault before assigning blame and consequences. If we cannot reach a conclusion, the consequences are applied to both boys. I refuse to use the word punishment here. We do not want to “punish” our boys. We want them to learn from their actions and understand the consequences of what can happen if they misbehave. For us, a consequence might be loss of Pad time, treats or YouTube.
Siblings will warp the truth. White lies are very common in our house hold. I know my boys though. Tink cannot lie; you can tell when he isn’t being truthful. Most often he will eventually confess. He has a conscience. I’m not too sure the same could be said for Pup. He lies with no problem at all although, if he actually has done something truly wrong, like break a toy or tear a book, he will cry when you question him.
This is why establishing equality amongst siblings is so important. Communication is the key! Using phrases which get them thinking about feelings always has a positive impact in the long run. Once they acknowledge their behaviour, they can apologise, forgive and forget.
Forgive & Forget
Yesterday, for example, Pup pulled Tink’s Lego Robot apart. It took two seconds for me to turn to him and say, “Why did you do that? Do you think that was good behaviour? How will Tink feel?” He instantly burst into tears and apologised. Occasions like this usually end in hugs and apologies. I want them to understand the importance of saying sorry. Once that is done we forgive and forget. The past is in the past and we move on.
3. Resolving Differences
Resolving differences is a large part of dealing with sibling rivalry. All siblings demonstrate competitive behaviour so, as parents to siblings, you spend most of your time refereeing arguments and fights. My two are basically a pair of Muppets who belong on Fraggle Rock. It honestly is exhausting at times, especially when you have those days where it can be continuous, where you just want to pour yourself a nice cold glass of wine and switch off. However, you have to keep chugging along, like the Little Engine that Could. Yup, there he is again! Most often I’d rather be chugging the wine than trying to embody this little guy.
Separate and Conquer
If we want to resolve a confrontation of any kind, the first thing we should do, as discussed above, is to separate and conquer. Treat it like a battlefield. If the fights turn physical, place each child in different rooms. Sometimes just sending them to their own bedrooms can defuse a situation and we can then start over. My only problem with this is that Pup loves his brother too much, not a bad thing I know but, being older, Tink needs his own space. Pup will follow him everywhere. Most often the arguments and fights start because Pup is doing something to annoy Tink. This is when I have to put on my thinking cap and focus on managing their emotions. Once they have cooled down we can then talk it out.
Talk it Out
Sitting down at a later point in the day and discussing any behavioural issues with the boys helps them to understand why they should not treat each other the way they do. Unfortunately though, siblings do fight. This is never going to solve the problem but at least it will help them to understand and maybe encourage them to think about their actions in the future.
It will also help to build that brotherly bond that they will have in later life. When I was younger my sister and I used to fight like cat and dog. My parents would leave us in the car, I know, back then that was acceptable but, the second the doors shut we would proceed to batter lumps out each other. When they returned, we’d sit there innocently, as if nothing had happened. As the years passed though, we developed such a special bond. Yes, we used to fight but the older we got, the more we realised how special having a sibling is. We will forever have each other and we both know that we can always rely on the other.
I want my boys to have that same bond but I am not completely naïve to believe that they will be best friends forever. I know this may not happen. Some siblings will just never get along but as a parent, I want to help and encourage that brotherly love as much as possible. This is why it is so important that they understand and face the consequences of their actions.
Face the Consequences
They need to know that they can hurt each other mentally and physically if it gets too out of hand. Sometimes I ask them, “Would you treat a school friend like this?” The answer is always, “No, of course not Mummy.” I’m a strong advocate of, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m not religious but from what I have experienced of religion growing up, this has always stayed with me. It is something I say time and time again, though maybe not in those exact words.
We focus a lot on respect and honestly in our household. I drive it into them time and time again, after every fight, treat others how you yourself wish to be treated. Have respect for yourself and have respect for others. If you do wrong you have to own up and face the consequences.
4. Mummy & Me Dates
Another key aspect of dealing with sibling rivalry is to plan out activities and spend equal amounts of time with both. My boys constantly vie for my attention, competing regularly with each other so it is important that they both have time with me, or their dad, when the other is not present.
I try and make time for mummy & me dates with each of my boys. This could include activities such as trips to the park, cafes or the beach. We also love to have movie nights, play games, read or, in Tink’s case, spend an afternoon building Lego. I’m not exactly a fan of Lego but this is where their needs come first. It allows us to have some one on one mother/child bonding time and helps to defeat that competitive behaviour.
Spending time separately with both boys certainly gives them that much needed ‘Mummy & Me’ time but it also helps improve our bond. Showing an interest in what they are passionate about can build trust and honesty which, I feel are extremely important attributes to have between parent and child. I’ve said this in previous posts but, my main concern with them growing up is that they might not feel comfortable speaking to us about certain things. My main aim throughout all my parenting techniques is to have an open relationship with them. If we have a strong bond then they will be more inclined to come to us with problems so, I will embrace their individuality and strive to guide them in the right direction.
5. Embrace Individuality
No child is ever the same. Just like the sun and the moon, my 2 are polar opposites. Tink is highly sensitive, intelligent and extremely methodical in everything he does. This morning for example, he started tidying his room. To do this he pulls everything out and then almost clinically, starts to put it all away again, in an orderly fashion. If you ask Pup to tidy up, you will most likely be hit with a tidal wave of toys as soon as you open his cupboard. Everything is thrown haphazardly out of sight.
He is boisterous, wild and definitely more of a physical little boy. While Tink loves to play, build or read, especially nonfiction, Pup would rather be running along the beach. They are that different it is no wonder that arguments and fights ensue. Part of dealing with sibling rivalry is to embrace these individualities and accept them. All children deserve to be accepted as they are. I am a great believer that it would be cruel to try and change them. These individualities shape them into the people they will become. To try to influence their like and dislikes would inhibit this.
Embrace and encourage their differences and help them to find common ground. Both my boys love minecraft so this is where I focus some of my energy, or rather their Dad does. I can’t get my head round that game but together they will sit and chat about it, playing side by side. Its times like these that we can inspire teamwork.
6. Teamwork makes the Dream Work
Another important aspect in dealing with sibling rivalry is teamwork after all, teamwork makes the dream work. This also helps to promote a positive attitude. Finding something they can do together will enable them to work as a pair and meet their goals. These are also valuable life skills. Part of parenting involves building on skills like these.
I regularly get the boys involved in house work. Even simple chores, such as cleaning door handles, will help to get the house cleaned faster and encourage them to work together. Assigning tasks like this will give them that sense of importance and responsibility. When raising boys, you always need to keep them involved and occupied. This is why focusing on team based exercises is so important to coping with sibling rivalry.
Another task you could try is to set up some arts and crafts (Easter Bunny) or create a little scavenger hunt. I created a couple a few months ago which both my boys love. One is designed for outdoors, the other indoors. As well as teamwork, this also helps to encourage healthy competition. It is always important to celebrate their successes.
7. Celebrate Success
We have always acknowledged any kind of success, even trivial ones. Technically no success is trivial but you know what I mean. We recognise success for achievements from perfectly completed homework, to star of the week, to sporting awards.
Smaller achievements warrant smaller awards; larger achievements warrant larger awards. Celebrating every kind of success is important to sibling rivalry because it lets them recognise what is fair, true and right, teaching them important morals for life.
When Tink grades up in Karate we always recognise this with a special treat, usually in the form of a small toy. Likewise, star of the week was rewarded with a movie night, sweets and treats. Other smaller awards could be extra time on YouTube, Pad or TV time.
Both boys get involved when we celebrate success in our family. The same can be said for my husband and I. We celebrate success as a family. If Pup does well at something, Tink would choose his reward and vice versa, with a little guidance of course. This teaches them the value of success and enforces that feeling of Brotherly Love.
At the End of the Day!
At the end of the day, dealing with sibling rivalry is definitely a challenge. Everyone has a competitive streak and there is no one more competitive than a set of siblings. It is no wonder that parents feel like tearing their hair out at times however, the bond that siblings hold is unbreakable. Even though they fight, it is part and parcel of growing up. As a sibling myself, I always know that both my brother and sister have my back. I am never truly alone. The same can be said for Tink and Pup. They may not always get along but, they will always be there for each other, defend each other and love each other.
They have brotherly love.
If you are expecting a second child and are worried about sibling rivalry or jealousy, babycentre UK has some good guidance on this subject.