Who Has Advice on Sibling Rivalry?

Some advice, please… My children love each other. They really do. The first time they met it was magic. They play together well considering their four-year age difference and are affectionate with each other. Sunboy was thrilled the first time that Flowergirl said that she loved him. Of course, these are not reasons why I need advice.

Flowergirl and Sunboy meet for the first time (Flowergirl is less than a day old)

It was bound to happen. Hints of jealousy have begun to emerge. Just now. I feel like if I handle jealousy issues well when they first emerge, it will go a long way. A proper setting of tone, perhaps. It may be delusional thinking on my behalf. Are siblings inherently competitive with one another? Is there little that I can do to set a good precedent?

As an only child, I can’t relate to what they’re experiencing. I can only guess what it would be like to be a young child and feel like I have to share my parents with someone else. I imagine the experience is different for Sunboy who had me to himself for four years than it is for Flowergirl who has always had a brother.

The worst example of the sibling rivalry occurred this week. By comparison to what many probably experience it wasn’t that bad but it felt like a foreshadowing of future days. I was giving the kids asthma medicine before bed. First Flowergirl had hers. She began compliantly but soon fought the idea of medicine or even sitting with me. Mama persevered and then it was Sunboy’s turn. Flowergirl protested the switch in positions, saying “No way!”. She turned, nestled her head into her chubby toddler arms and cried. Tears streamed down her face, all because I was giving her brother medicine. Medicine that she didn’t want herself a few minutes prior. I asked her if she wanted to be where Sunboy was sitting. She nodded yes through the tears.

Earlier that day, Sunboy sat in my lap to read a book which prompted Flowergirl to crawl into my lap also. This led to them vacillating between mildly elbowing the other out of my lap and hugging each other in affection. It got to the point where I couldn’t see the book to read it.

I realize that these are both minor incidences, but I’m at a bit of a loss for how best to handle it.

I’ve told them both that the each of them has a place in my heart – one for Sunboy and one for Flowergirl – and that nothing or no one can take their special spot. I’ve talked about family and how a bigger family means more people to love. I’ve told Sunboy that he and Flowergirl will be friends for their entire lives.

Flowergirl’s age (21 months) may be part of the issue at this point. I can’t explain things to her the same way I can explain them to Sunboy, who is six. Then again, what do logical explanations do to mend a feeling in one’s heart?

So, I turn to you brilliant people. What, if anything, helps lessen feelings of sibling rivalry? What is your experience with sibling rivalry as either a sibling or as a parent of siblings? Is there anything that it helps to hear, any books to recommend, anything that I, as a parent, can do to make this easier for my children? Comments are appreciated. I feel out of my element on this one. Thanks.

7 thoughts on “Who Has Advice on Sibling Rivalry?

  1. My brother and I were so drastically different, and even though we loved each other and could play with each other and would valiantly defend each other if the other was a target from another..but between each other? When we were fighting for control? We were AWFUL. Like, punching, kicking, screaming, causing pain in every way possible horrible. I still have scars from where he would make me bleed. He still talks about how I’d fake him out and then get my revenge when he thought he’d gotten me.

    When our parents left us alone? When they weren’t there to break up our fights…we never fought. If they were outside working or otherwise occupied…we didn’t fight. But if they were home…it was absolute WAR. No rules, no calling uncle..absolute WAR.

    I can’t even remember what would start it or why we would fight anymore though…actually.

    But I do remember years later when we were all grown up…we both were ADAMANT that the OTHER was our parents favourite. That they were given special treatment, that they were more loved, a million other things.

    ..When in reality? I’m pretty sure that we were equally loved, equally treated and equally doted upon. It was just our own bizarre perceptions.

    Perhaps you can set aside some ‘special’ alone time with each child. Something a little out of the ordinary…a special date, even a short one..that makes them feel showered in your time and your love, without anything or anyone else interupting or taking attention away from their time?

    I don’t really have any help to offer…but all I can say is that you just have to keep loving them. And explaining to them that you love them. You’re doing a fabulous job parenting and it will all work out, they will find their spots and settle into them, I’m sure of it. Just keep showing them and telling them the ways that you love them, the reasons you love them and reinforcing their good behaviour when they interact well together. Never underestimate the power of praise and what it can do to make them want to interact well together. When they sit well together, when they share your attention etc. etc. etc. …make sure to acknowledge and thank them for being so good at sitting on your lap together, etc. Whatever it may be. I’ve always found that this acknowledging of good behaviour is so much more successful than anything else when trying to get desirable traits out of children.

    Goodluck! Let me know if you want me to drag out my child psychology books. It’s been a while, but they’re kicking around here somewhere :)

    1. This is amazing! It’s like another world. I wonder if the feeling of the fights growing up was ever about competition over parents, etc, or if it was just that you were stuck with this other person all the time, or just the situation of the moment. This story is so helpful and interesting. I need to let it sink in. Thank you for sharing this, Erin.

  2. Great post, Kat! Since I only have one child, I don’t have a lot of advice from personal experience. However, I wonder if perhaps Sunboy may feel a little jealous now that he’s going off to school and you are home with FlowerGirl during the days when you aren’t working?

    Even if that isn’t the case, I was also going to suggest you start planning little dates with each child individually, like Erin said. I’ve heard of many parents who do that as a means of coping with sibling jealousy.

    And just FYI, as someone who knows your children personally, I think they get along wonderfully as siblings! :) Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Liz. You have a brother and so you’re very much experienced! :)
      The little dates are definitely a good idea. I feel that Flowergirl is struggling with this the most at the moment at least, and it’s just difficult to explain it to her. Perhaps it’s just a matter of consistency with demonstrating love and giving them both special mama time.

  3. First of all, I must tell you this, sunflower and Flowergirl are adorable! I don’t think you’ll ever have any issues of jealousy once sunboy is a little older.
    I have an elder sister and I am the stubborn one among us. When I was born, she took me like her responsibility. She forgave my mistakes and loved me more than anyone else. Even today, I know that her love can never subside..

    Flowergirl might be a little jealous at times once older, but when she slowly gains maturity, she’ll realize her brother’s love and that feeling is undefinable. And as for sunboy, he loves her unconditionally and will always be the one to tackle the worst!

    Loved your post!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Shalinijena. Your experience is reassuring. It does sound like our situation here in that the younger one is the one who is figuring things out right now. Hoping we follow your footsteps with brighter days ahead! It only surfaces now and then so I think we are on the right track.

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