The following is an excerpt from my ‘The Second Baby Book’:
The following tips can all help to forge closer, more positive sibling relationships:
1. Don’t Compare Them
Comparing children is possibly the most destructive mistake that parents of two or more children can make. If you have a sibling, how many times did you hear “why can’t you be good, like your sister?” or “your brother is so much easier than you!”? How did it make you feel when your parents compared you to your sibling? Resentful? Hurt? Angry? Not only can comparison drive a wedge between parent and child relationships, but it can also cause animosity between siblings. Labelling children can have similar unexpected negative consequences. Be careful not to label children as “the naughty one”, “the quiet one”, “the easy one” and so on. Aside from encouraging a self-fulfilling prophecy with the limiting beliefs that accompany labelling, the unspoken comparison between siblings can often cause them to fight to keep their place or shed the label and place it onto another member of the family. Your children are individuals, treat them as one, the more you do, the less chance of any feelings of resentment they will have towards their sibling, which may damage any relationship they have.
2. Encourage Personal Space
Most children struggle with an invasion of their space. Toddlers on a play-date lash out and hit a peer who dares to join them in a favourite activity and teenagers can be hugely territorial over their belongings, albeit their lashing out is usually more verbal than physical. Helping siblings to have their own personal space, that is sacred to them, is vital. As is teaching all members of the family to respect this sacred space. ‘Don’t touch without asking’ should be a rule that applies to all. If your living arrangements don’t allow for your children to have their own bedroom (which is probably the easiest solution to allow for personal space, but not something that most families are able to provide), make sure each has a special corner of a room that is theirs and theirs alone. When they are young, I recommend buying each child their own toy box. A closed space that their sibling is not allowed to touch without their permission. As the parent, you must make sure that this is respected, don’t force children to share with their siblings if they are struggling with feelings of invasion of space and a lack of ownership.
3. One-to-One Time
Do you remember wondering how you would ever be able to love another child as much as your firstborn when you were expecting your second? Something we covered right at the start of this book. Then the new baby was born, and you wondered why you ever worried, maybe not immediately, but as the days and weeks went on. While loves multiplies and we somehow find it in our hearts to have more than enough love for another child, sadly our time availability lessens. There is a famous quote, by the American author Anthony P Witham that says, “children spell love T.I.M.E” and it couldn’t be more correct. While you know you love your children equally (albeit you may not like them equally at any given moment in time! Which is totally fine by the way), this is a worry that they struggle with throughout childhood. Making individual time for each child, one-to-one, is critical. Children need time alone with their parents, without their siblings around. This means leaving the new baby with your partner while you dash to the park with your toddler for fifteen minutes, spending a day out shopping with your teenager, while their younger sibling stays at home, or taking fifteen minutes every day to tuck up each of your children in turn in bed, rather than sharing bedtime. You may be thinking “but I don’t have time for that!”, but I think it’s always possible to grab a few minutes each day, it’s about utilising and prioritising time and sometimes asking for help if you are a single parent, or your partner works away from home lots. The sad truth is that if you don’t make time for one-to-one attention for your children as they grow, then you’re going to have to make time to deal with the rivalry and fights that result from not doing it. It’s much more enjoyable and far easier to spend the time reconnecting with children than it is dealing with the fallout of them feeling disconnected from you and resentful of their sibling.
4. Encourage Problem Solving
As we discussed earlier in this chapter, your role should be as a mediator, not a judge. Often, parents jump in and try to fix sibling squabbles far too soon. This ‘fix it’ approach inhibits the siblings from learning how to solve their own issues. Instead of jumping in and delivering a verdict, it’s much better to act in a commentator type role. See your position as encouraging communication and empathy, giving both children a chance to feel heard and then collaboratively problem solving to reach an amicable solution, rather than refereeing. Remember, this usually means biting your tongue and sitting on your hands, while you wait for the children to work things out, with a few added pointers along the way, just as in the worked example we looked at. This approach does take some practice and requires a lot of patience on your behalf, but it really does help, albeit probably not as quickly as you would hope.
5. Co-Operative Games
Encouraging siblings to work as a team during play is a great way to transpose the skills to everyday life. Instead of encouraging games where they work against each other, racing to find a winner (and a loser), try to find ones where they work as a team towards a common goal. For younger children, co-operative board games work well. You’ll find some recommendations at the end of this book in the resources section. For older tweens and teens, consider a family trip to a Room Escape game, where you work together as a family to solve the clues and escape the room. Siblings will always disagree and fight, however with a little bit of mindful guidance, not only can you encourage their bond, but you will also help them to navigate relationship difficulties, from romantic ones to workplace ones, that they will come across in adulthood, remember, sibling fighting is actually a good thing for their emotional development.
The Second Baby Book is available as an e-book, paperback and audio book.