Sibling Rivalry when you are expecting a new baby

  • Your child’s personality has a biggest effect on how they react to a new baby.
  • Your child’s developmental stage affects how well they can share your attention. Two-year-olds have trouble getting used to a new baby, if their needs for time & attention from their parents remain significant.
  • Family stress of any kind (e.g. pandemic) makes your older child’s adjustment harder.
  • Sibling rivalry can start right after (or even before) the arrival of the second child. Occasionally, the older child becomes aggressive, “acts out” or even regresses.

Some things you can do to prepare your older child:

  • Tell your child about your pregnancy when you tell your friends.  Your child needs to hear about it from you.
  • If you plan to move your child to a new bed and/or bedroom. Do this long before the baby arrives, so your older child does not feel “displaced” by the baby.
  • Other major changes, like weaning, toilet training & starting preschool should also begin well before the birth.
  • Describe what to expect when the baby arrives. Tell your child that you will be tired, and the baby will take lots of your time.  The baby will not be able to do much at first, except eat, sleep, poop, pee & cry. The baby will not be a playmate.
  • Read books about pregnancy, birth, newborns, & baby siblings with your child. Let them ask questions, voice concerns, & express feelings described in the books.
  • Show pictures of your older child’s birth & baby pictures. Tell them what they were like as a baby.
  • Let your child practice holding a doll & supporting the head.  Teach them how to gently touch & hold a baby.
  • Let your child participate in preparations of the nursery, or baby’s coming home outfit.

Causes of Sibling Rivalry

  • Each child competes to define themselves as an individual, separate from their siblings. As they discover who they are, they try to find their own talents, activities, & interests.
  • Children feel they are getting unequal amounts of your attention, discipline, & responsiveness.
  • Children feel their relationship with their parents is threatened by the arrival of a new baby.
  • Your children’s developmental stages affect how mature they are & how well they can share your attention & get along with each another.
  • Children who are hungry, bored, or tired are more likely to become frustrated & start fights.
  • Children may not know positive ways to get attention or how to start playful activities, so they pick fights instead.
  • Children often fight more in families where parents think aggression & fighting between siblings is normal & an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.
  • Inadequate time for sharing regular, enjoyable family time (like family meals) can increase the chances of children engaging in conflict.
  • Stress in the parents’ lives can decrease the amount of time & attention parents can give the children which increases sibling rivalry.
  • Stress in your children’s lives shortens their fuses & decreases their ability to tolerate frustration, leading to more conflict.
  • How parents treat their kids & react to conflict can make a big difference in how well siblings get along.
  • Family dynamics play a role if one child reminds a parent of a relative or sib who was particularly difficult, and this can influence how the parent treats that child.

Guidelines for managing sibling rivalry:

  • Do not play favorites.
  • Do not compare your children to one another.
  • Allow each child to be who they are. Do not try to label them (“he’s the easy one,” “she’s the testy one.”)
  • Each child has individual talents & successes.
  • Encourage cooperation rather than competition. Have them race the clock to pick up toys, instead of racing each other.
  • If conflicts usually occur before naps or bedtime, or when children are hungry before meals, then try a change in the routine, a snack, or a well-planned quiet activity.
  • Teach your children positive ways to get attention from each other. Show them how to ask another child to play, & share toys.
  • Being fair is not the same as being equal. Older & younger children will usually have different privileges due to their age. Even if you do try to treat your kids equally, there may be times when they feel like they are not getting their fair share of attention from you. Expect this & be ready to explain this to them.
  • Plan family activities for everyone. If your children have good experiences together, it helps prevent conflicts later.
  • Each child needs adequate time & space of their own, to do their own thing, play with their own friends without their sibling. Each child needs their own space.

More Pearls for handling sibling rivalry:

  • Provide some special “alone time” for each child with you. Each parent should try to spend one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis, at least a few minutes each day. Even 10 – 15 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time means the world to your child.
  • When you are alone with each child, ask them occasionally to talk about some of the positive things their brother or sister does that they really like.
  • Let them talk about some of the things their sibs do that makes them mad. Listen to how your children feel about what’s going on in the family.
  • Tell them your understand how they feel. They may not be so demanding if they know you at least care how they feel.
  • Let each child know they are special in their own way and celebrate their differences.

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