Most Sibling Rivalries Begin in Fear or Jealousy
Take these simplest and sweetest steps before baby arrives to create lasting bonds
At least four sets of twins in the U.S. were born far enough apart to have different birth years, making many of them the first babies of 2017 (and some of the last babies of 2016). Families in Arizona, Georgia, Utah, and California all experienced this phenomenon. These siblings will no doubt enjoy this special fact about themselves throughout the years.
I am just days away from giving birth, so I notice stories like this. I also read about steps I can take to create close and connected siblings, as the clock ticks down to my next child’s arrival.
As a mother of two — very soon to be three — I often look back to my own childhood when raising my family. Growing up, my sister and I were archenemies, playing off each other’s weaknesses and constantly looking for an opportunity to outshine the other. Today, we are very close.
Since I am expecting my third child, my thoughts have turned to siblings and how they feel when it comes to a new addition to the family. My kids, ages nine and six, will have challenges and joys in the days ahead. After having my first child, I looked for ways to make the transition from one-child family to two-child family, trying to make it as seamless as possible, and looking for ways to foster positive sibling relationships.
While petty sibling rivalries are likely and even inevitable, I’ve found that the most important factor in negating this is beginning the journey set up for success. What I’ve learned for myself — and hope to impart to my children — is that there is enough love to go around.
Most sibling rivalries begin in jealousy or fear. One child thinks that somehow — simply because the other child or children exist — Mom and Dad suddenly have a finite amount of love. If it is being shown to one child, clearly there is not enough left for the other(s). While it may sound preposterous to us as adults, to children it is a very natural and developmentally appropriate way of thinking, according to the Child Development Institute’s website. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s easy for parents to navigate.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I worried about how to ensure my children were the best of friends — or at the very least, that they didn't hate each other. I put a lot of energy into preparing my then-two-year-old for the birth of her baby brother.
I began by giving her responsibilities regarding the baby. She helped set up the nursery and fold the baby clothes, for starters. This ensured that activities concerning the baby were not separate from her — that she was involved in the process. Now, at nine years old, she does the same thing for her new little sister yet to be born. All our baby clothes and diapers are currently organized thanks to her alone, because she takes pride in welcoming her new sibling into the world.
Another way I've been able to help transition the kids into their new roles as older siblings is by purchasing books specifically geared toward them. My daughter received a book called "I'm A Big Sister" by Joanna Cole, while my son got "The New Baby" book, which is part of the Little Critter series by Mercer Mayer. (There is no shortage of books about bringing a new baby home.) My daughter's eyes lit up when her brother received his book; she remembered how important it was to her in becoming an older sister. Each book has a handwritten note from me in the front cover, encouraging my children and assuring them of how great they will be at being older siblings.
Both my son and my daughter are leaders, and they delight in teaching others new skills. I've taken time with each of them to think through, and even write out, what they'd like to teach their baby sister. This gives them a sense of pride in knowing they will be able to positively influence her, teaching her things from how to speak her first words, to later being a good friend. When they have a role in her life, they seem more open to interacting with the idea of a new baby.
Giving your children the opportunity to express themselves acknowledges their feelings.
We also make one-on-one plans with each child, as we always have. My youngest loves Legos, while the oldest loves to read. I've made it a point to spend quality time doing their favorite activities with each of them, and purposely spend that time with no mention of the baby — just focusing on them and their interests. This confirms that I am — and still will be — available to them even after baby arrives.
If either of my children seem worried or anxious, we talk about it. Dr. Sears' website — Sears is a well-known parenting expert —says, "Encourage your child to express her negative as well as her positive feelings. Give her an empathetic opener such as, ‘Sometimes I imagine you like your baby brother and sometimes you don't." Simply giving your children the opportunity to express themselves acknowledges their feelings and helps them overcome them.
Welcoming a new baby is an exciting time. Being intentional with an older brother or sister can make the transition so much more enjoyable — and will help to start this lifelong relationship off on the right foot.
Liz Logan lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her growing family. She is pursuing a master's degree in creative nonfiction.