Sibling jealousy over the new baby seems understandable, but what do you do when a few years have passed and your kids are still jealous?
Perhaps you’re exhausted with your older child’s jealousy and need for constant attention. Even when you were pregnant, he was already apprehensive about his baby brother’s arrival.
Just as you predicted, he 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 he feels.
He behaves well in every other way, but when it comes to sibling rivalry, both kids are fighting 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 him more of your attention. Unfortunately, this didn’t work… in fact, it only seems to have backfired. The more attention you give him, the more of it he 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 his feelings.
How to avoid 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, and that other kids must fight this way as well. Or worse, they think there’s no way out of it.
Rest assured, you can do plenty to end sibling jealousy, 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 brother or sister
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. In fact, encourage them to cooperate, not compete with each other. The less they see their siblings as opponents, 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. She feels left out when you breastfeed the baby, go to her sister’s gymnastics classes every weekend, or struggle with her picky eating.
Find ways to make her feel included, even in the simplest of ways. Instead of cooking while the kids play (or fight), invite her to help you tear salad leaves apart or set the table. Use the time she waits during gymnastics class to play games or read together.
She can still feel included, even if the attention is directed to her sister. Including her as much as you can makes her see that she’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 himself. His sibling might have a special event at school, or get all the attention from relatives.
If you feel him resenting his sibling, remind him of all the ways he’s special and unique. Set him aside and talk about how his drawings make you happy, or how he’s such a responsible brother.
Even with all the attention his sibling may be getting, he is still valuable simply for being who he is. His place in the family never depends on how much attention his siblings 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 a 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 her brother would’ve done it better. What her brother does is irrelevant to correcting her behavior and only builds resentment against him.
6. Encourage empathy
Kids don’t start off understanding how other people feel. In fact, this skill—empathy—develops over the years, and is best nurtured starting in childhood. After all, how can kids 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 his past experiences to what he sees in the moment. If he sees his sister crying, you could say, “We all feel sad, too. Remember how you felt sad when we had to leave the park? She feels something like that.”
These responses help your child put himself in other people’s shoes and imagine how they feel. The more he can forecast the “results” of his behavior, the more he can better decide whether it’s kind or not.
Let’s say he usually feels jealous that you’re comforting his sister. But now he might see that she’s sad her stuffed animal broke, just as he was sad when he lost his own stuffed animal.
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 her, no matter what. That you accept her for exactly the way she is, and that she doesn’t have to do anything to get your love.
You can do this by…
- Addressing her behavior, not her as a person. If she misbehaves, don’t say she’s a “bad girl,” but rather she made a bad choice. She as a person is always good, even if she makes mistakes. This way, you can focus on correcting the behavior without implying that there’s anything about her 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 her in a while and are excited to be with her once again. Let her presence light up your face so she can feel your love and warmth in a genuine way.
- Spending one-on-one time with her. 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 her brother has gone to bed can be all she needs. Give her a chance to have you all to herself 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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