Whether you have a new baby or it’s been a few years, sibling jealousy can feel frustrating. Learn how to nurture a bond among your kids.
Sibling jealousy over the newborn seems understandable, but what do you do when a few years have passed and your kids are still jealous of each other?
Perhaps you’re exhausted with your older child’s jealousy and need for constant attention. Even when you were pregnant, she was already apprehensive about her baby brother’s arrival.
Just as you predicted, she didn’t take to the new baby at all. You figured the stage would pass, but several years later, the bond you hoped to nurture is still buried beneath the sibling jealousy she feels.
Both kids behave well in every other way, but when it comes to sibling rivalry, they fight for your time. Bathing, brushing their teeth, playing—these have all become precious moments with mom they clamor for.
So, you did what seemed to make sense: you gave her more of your attention. Unfortunately, this didn’t work—in fact, it only seems to have backfired. The more attention you give her, the more preferential treatment she still wants.
You’re trying to be fair, but you’re also finding yourself spending more and more time with your jealous child to appease her feelings and comfort her with constant reassurance. Her temperament has made you even start to feel resentment toward her.
How to stop sibling jealousy
It’s never too late to forge a strong sibling relationship, even when it’s been years since this has been happening.
Many parents assume that sibling rivalry is normal. That their kids will fight all the time, that other kids must fight this way as well, or that name-calling is the norm. Or worse, they think there’s no way out of it.
Rest assured, you can do plenty to end sibling jealousy and envy, all without feeling drained and pulled in different directions. Take a look at these 7 things to do to nurture a wonderful bond among your kids:
1. Praise your older child for being a good big sibling
We tend to see what we focus our thoughts and attention on, don’t you think? If your child’s behavior seems to confirm his jealousy, then you’re more likely to spot even more instances when he’s jealous. After all, we like to be right, so we find ways to “prove” that we are.
The trouble is, you’re also less likely to spot the times when he is behaving well.
The trick is to intentionally find the times he’s being a good big brother—and praise him for it. Praising him for his positive behavior encourages him to continue down that path. He can get attention less through misbehavior and more when he’s treating his siblings nicely.
It’s much easier to promote positive behavior through praise, than to correct negative behavior.
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2. Encourage cooperation, not competition
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Does it seem like all your kids do is fight to see who’s best? This doesn’t always work well when they feel especially jealous of their siblings or are vying for your affection.
Competition does not have to be the default way they interact. Encourage them to cooperate, not compete with each other. The less they see their sibling as an opponent, the more they can see the value of having a brother or sister.
How can you encourage cooperation? You can have them…
- Complete a task against the clock, not against each other (like cleaning up toys by a certain time, not by who can do it quicker).
- Work as a team (one child can match socks while the other rolls the pairs together).
- Play games that puts them on the same side (board games like Race to the Treasure focuses less on winning and losing).
3. Make your kids feel included
Sibling jealousy often arises because one child feels left out. He feels left out when you breastfeed the baby, go to his sister’s gymnastics classes every weekend, or struggle with his picky eating.
Find ways to make him feel included, even in the simplest of ways. Instead of cooking while the kids play (or fight), invite him to help you tear salad leaves apart or set the table. Use the time he waits during gymnastics class to play games or read together before bedtime.
He can still feel included, even if the attention is directed to his toddler sister. Including him as much as you can makes him see that he’s not ignored, but rather, a part of your “team.”
4. Talk about what makes your kids special
Seeing others get the attention and praise can spurn sibling jealousy and make your child feel down about herself. Her sibling might have a special event at school, or get all the attention from relatives.
If you feel her resenting her sibling, remind her of all the ways she’s special and unique. Talk about how her drawings make you happy, or how she’s such a responsible sister.
Even with all the attention her sibling may be getting, she’s still valuable simply for being who she is. Her place in the family never depends on how much attention her sibling may get.
On that note, find special rituals or outings you can do together. That might be a good night phrase that you only say to one another, or weekly outdoor activities for one-on-one time together.
5. Don’t compare your kids
Kids hear what we say, and even understand implied body language. They know we talk about who started walking first, or whether we think one of them throws more tantrums than the other. These comparisons can heighten sibling jealousy and deteriorate the bond you’re trying to nurture.
Instead of comparing, talk about each child’s milestones without mentioning the other. Avoid labeling any of them in a way that makes them believe they’re locked into that trait (“He’s the artistic one”).
And don’t talk about what another child would’ve done in that circumstance, as if to imply that the other would’ve done it better.
6. Encourage empathy
Kids don’t start off understanding how other people feel. This skill—empathy—develops over the years, and is best nurtured in childhood. After all, how can they correct their behavior when they don’t know how it impacts others?
Encouraging empathy is an ongoing process, and I’ll often find myself repeating the same sentences over and over: “How would you feel if…?” or “You wouldn’t like it if someone else…”
You can also relate one of your child’s past experiences to what she sees in the moment. If she sees her brother crying, you could say, “We all feel sad, too. Remember how you felt sad when we had to leave the park? He feels something like that.”
These responses help her put herself in other people’s shoes and imagine how they feel. The more she can forecast the “results” of her behavior, the more she can better decide whether it’s kind or not.
Let’s say she usually feels jealous that you’re comforting her brother. But now she might see that he’s sad that his toy broke, just as she was sad when her own toy broke.
7. Reinforce your unconditional love
Deep down, we all fear rejection, kids included. They worry that their behavior might drive us away, or that they won’t always be special in our hearts.
Reassure your child that you love him, no matter what. That you accept him for exactly the way he is, and that he doesn’t have to do anything to get your love.
You can do this by…
- Addressing his behavior, not him as a person. If he misbehaves, don’t say he’s a “bad boy,” but rather he made a bad choice. He as a person is always good, even if he makes mistakes. This way, you can focus on correcting the behavior without implying that there’s anything about him to fix.
- Being 100% present in your gestures and interactions. It’s one thing to give a quick hug in the morning, but what if you started the day with a wide smile on your face or a warm hug? Act as if you haven’t seen him in a while and are excited to be with him once again. Let his presence light up your face so he can feel your love and warmth in a genuine way.
- Spending one-on-one time. Don’t feel discouraged when you hear “one-on-one”—we’re not talking hours here. Even something as simple as a few minutes a day or reading together or cuddling after his sister has gone to bed can meet his individual needs. Give him a chance to have you all to himself even in little pockets throughout the day.
Jealousy between siblings does not have to be a fact of life, my friend. Even if it feels like your kids have been fighting since birth, you can still nurture a strong sibling relationship today.
Start by praising positive behavior and noticing all the times they treated each other kindly. Encourage them to cooperate with, instead of competing against, one another. Make sure they feel included throughout the day instead of cast off to the side.
Avoid comparisons, and instead point out the many ways each one is special and unique. Teach them empathy so they can begin to see how their siblings might feel. And finally, reassure them of your unconditional love—they don’t have to do anything to deserve your love.
Your kids can get along, especially when you nurture a strong, cooperative bond today.
p.s. Check out The New Small Person by Lauren Child to help your child understand their evolving emotions about new sibling:
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Child Regresses Because of New Baby Jealousy
- 8 Keys to Explaining Emotions to Your Child
- Children’s Books About Positive Behavior
- 4 Ways to Help Your Child Handle a Baby Crying
- How to Encourage Siblings to Get Along from a Young Age
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