In November, I wrote about the advantages of having siblings: bonding, solidarity, unconditional love and support.
Now, my second grandchild is about to be born, and I'm wondering if sibling rivalry will rear its ugly head. How is the first-born going to take this intrusion of her space and loss of parental attention?
Sibling rivalry can be fierce. When the new baby is brought home, there is often the feeling of "Who am I now that someone else is here also?" Anger, jealousy, violence and even depression can result. The loyalty commitment is suddenly broken and must be handled with sensitivity and patience.
Children do get through it. It is the first time to learn about jealousy and how to deal with it productively. The ego is challenged to open and accept others, a continual life process. The world no longer centers on the only child; this is reality.
Different children handle their jealousy in different ways. Many factors may influence how often kids fight and how severe it gets. The ages of the children and their corresponding needs, anxieties and identities affect how they relate to one another.
Toddlers are naturally protective of their toys and are beginning to assert their wills, so they may react aggressively every time a new sibling picks up their toys. School-age kids have strong concepts of fairness and equality, so they may not understand why siblings of other ages are treated differently or preferentially. Teenagers are developing individuality and independence and may resent caring for younger siblings, or even spending time together.
Other influences that come into play are your kids' individual temperaments, moods, dispositions and adaptability. Kids are just like adults as far as having unique personalities. Some are naturally more relaxed, and others are easily rattled.
Sometimes a child's special needs from illness or learning/emotional issues may require more parental time. Other siblings may pick up on this disparity and act out to get attention. This is another good way to learn about real life.
What to do? This may require a whole separate article. Briefly, try not to get involved, unless of course there's danger of physical harm. Kids may start expecting your help and wait for you to rescue them rather than working it out themselves. It also may appear to one child that the other is always being protected.
The way parents resolve problems and disagreements themselves sets a strong example for kids. If you can work through issues in a way that's respectful, productive and not aggressive, and your kids see you doing this, a powerful message is sent to those absorbing little psyches. It's very effective.
If you're concerned about language used or name calling, this is a wonderful opportunity to coach kids through what they're feeling by using appropriate words. This can also be a lifelong learning technique I wish more people would use today.
More soon on details of solving sibling-rivalry issues. For now, may peace reside in your home.
Martha McClellan has been an early childhood educator, director and administrator for 32 years. She is currently consulting with and supporting early care providers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.