Sibling rivalry. It often starts at birth. I’ve heard the story many times. Baby number two+ comes along and the used-to-be-baby of the family shows those signs of jealousy—sleep regressions, potty accidents when they’d been trained for months already, tantrums over the littlest things. It’s tough on the whole family. Things have changed. They’re feeling insecure. An older child may even voice it.
Fast-forward a few years and instead of the toddler tantrums, you’ll be hearing “Mom! Billy hit me!” and “Dad, Susie won’t stop copying me!” These issues are really obvious right now when our whole world has been changed. Most siblings would just have a couple of hours a day, plus the weekends spent together…. and at the time of this writing, we are in our homes almost 24/7 in a family togetherness experiment like no other. Yes, there are good things coming out of it. For example, maybe this time can help your kids find their friendship again. “Your siblings can be your best friends” my husband reminds our kids often.
So how can we help them accomplish this? Before we can solve the problem, it helps to look at why this may be occurring. What causes this sibling rivalry, this jealousy, competition, and/or fighting. Is it boredom? Too much screen time? Perhaps. But my gut tells me this: I’d be willing to bet that one of the biggest reasons for our kids acting out is that they are craving attention from us, their parents.
Think about how this rivalry may stem from the time the younger sibling is born—
that postpartum time when the new baby takes up so much of our attention. Add in something big, such as the current state of our world, and this huge feeling of insecurity can add another level of stress. So if you’ve been wondering why on earth they keep fighting so much lately, I’d bet these things have a big part in it. If you’re like me, you’ve been spending too much time tuning into the state of the world. My phone is too close to me, and I’ve been draining the battery too often. One of the ways I know it’s too much is when my kids start acting out.
If you’re experiencing this during the postpartum time, I recommend taking some extra time with the older kids who may be feeling neglected. Keep a basket of books near your couch and sit there while you breastfeed. Involve the bigger kids in caring for the baby. Encourage them, “You’re such a wonderful big sister—look at him smiling at you, he loves you so much!”
Are your children past those baby years? Well. Have you ever heard of The 5 Love Languages? With kids, it’s really easy to find out what they need. Just ask them “How do you know someone loves you?”
They might answer, “When I get a hug.” There’s the physical touch.
“When someone tells me.” Hello, words of affirmation.
“When they play a game with me.” Aha! Quality time.
“When they give me a present!” You guessed it, receiving gifts!
“When they help me with my chore.” And there you have acts of service.
Go ahead; ask your child this simple question. It can go a long way toward knowing how to keep him or her feeling secure, safe, and loved.
I think quality time is extremely important, no matter what your main Love Language is. So start by spending time with your kids, good quality time. Be engaged. Put away the phone, TV, electronics. Take them on one-on-one “date nights.”
Give them the stability, consistency, and love they need. This will build up their confidence, and I’m willing to bet you’ll begin seeing a difference in their attitudes and behavior.
But even with the most stable, loving environment, kids will be kids.
There will be fights. And these stressful times we’ve been living in the past few months are going to show in our kids. They’re feeling the stress, too. So, what can we do for them? How do we help guide them when these fights break out?
As Brian Helminen, a Calumet dad of fifteen and author of How to Raise a Happy Family recommends in his book, “Stay neutral as much as possible and let kids settle their differences.” Stepping in to settle their battles for them every time won’t help them in the long run. As long as they aren’t causing each other major bodily harm (then it’s time to referee), letting them find a solution between themselves is a good lesson. It’s part of growing up—finding the maturity to solve disagreements.
The few times my husband and I had to step in, we chose to referee and bring in the “get-along” shirt.” The two siblings who have been in battle must wear an oversized T-shirt together for a set amount of time. What had started with tears and fighting ends in laughing and smiles as they try to navigate together.
Learning to settle differences is a skill.
And who better to learn it with than the people who love you most, your family members? An unconditional love creates a safe space for kids to be themselves, and grow into responsible adults. Because that’s what we’re striving for, right? As New York Times best-selling author Andy Andrews says, “The goal is not to raise great kids. It’s to raise kids who become great adults.”
I hope these tips help you to find a balance in your family. From learning their love languages and maybe trying a “get-along” shirt, to making an effort to make sure to spend some good quality time with your family, it’s not too late to encourage your children to find the amazing friendship possible between siblings.
Anna Kangas is a full-time homeschooling mom of seven, wife of 10+ years, and owner of Keweenaw Doula Services. She is passionate about supporting families in Houghton and Keweenaw counties during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.