How to conflict-proof sibling relationships?
- Give space to your child’s feelings about the new baby: limit behavior, not emotions.
- Share with your family and friends the needs of your older child.
- Set aside special, one-on-one time for your older child when the new baby arrives.
- Promote connection between your older and younger child.
It is entirely understandable that you want your kids to cooperate, support and help each other out. But instead, some of you might find that you are dealing with endless fights over who knocks down whose toys and who hits whom first. A more maddening version can be that tears and fights break out when they play together, but one or both of them refuse to play separately, and the cycle continues, despite your best effort to intervene.
When To Start Paving the Way to Sibling Harmony?
The answer is, surprisingly, before the younger sibling is born. Why?
A lot of times sibling conflicts are motivated by competition and jealousy: who get the toy, the next turn on the I-pad, and most importantly, mum’s and dad’s love and attention. To adults, a new baby is often good news: more bliss and blessings, a bigger and happier family. To our kid, a new baby might not be such good news: it’s a competition for the limited resources at home (toy, food, love, and attention).
You might disagree, “but our love is limitless, and there are enough toys and food for everyone.” You are right, but our kids might not know that. And so they need to be told and reassured repeatedly. In other words, one important way to prevent and defuse competition and jealousy is to tell them and show them with your action that there will always be enough goodies to go around, especially your love. And that reassurance should start when you are still pregnant. The message you want to convey is, 1) it’s good news that your kid will have a sibling (emphasize the baby is his sibling and your child, and encourage a sense of ownership and relatedness), 2) your kid is and will always be your special child, 3) she will always be loved. A child who feels loved and secure about his place at home will act out less.
After the baby is born, promoting sibling harmony takes two route. The first route focuses on I) ensuring your older child’s needs are met, and the second on II) promoting connection between your older and younger child.
I) Meeting your older child’s needs
a) Set aside special, one-on-one time for your older child every day where he gets your undivided love and attention. The ideal is to let your child choose and lead the activity, and you follow. Put aside other tasks (e.g., checking your device), and let your spouse take over the responsibility of attending to the baby during that one-on-one time.
b) Give space to your child’s feelings about the baby and the resulting changes. If he expresses negative feelings, acknowledge them, and help him name those difficult feelings.
Your child, “I hate the baby. Now you don’t play with me anymore because you are always holding the baby.”
You, “I see. So you are upset that I spend less time with you. And you don’t like I am always taking care of the baby. You must feel left out.”
c) Limit behavior, not emotions. Have it as the family rule that no hitting is allowed. Nap hitting in the bud, but redirect your child to other ways of expressing their difficult emotions: e.g., talking about them, drawing them out, or encouraging them to hit a ball to the wall to give emotions an outlet.
d) Talk to friends and family about the need of your older child. When family and friends come visit, brief them beforehand about the importance of acknowledging your older child’s needs. Some ideas could be to 1) say hi to and chat with the older child first when they come to see the baby, and 2) have some bring a “big sister gift” instead of a baby gift so your child doesn’t feel completely left out, 3) encourage grandparents, aunts, uncles to reassure your older child of her special place in their hearts.