Firstly, I am foremost a mother – just like you – and my children squabble.
Starting out sensitively is important when a new baby is brought home from hospital. Parents are often asked how the older child is reacting.
“Oh he loves his baby sister.” But it is in fact a complex blend of protectiveness –( he knows he should love his baby sister) and self preservation. In fact the ambivalence is best understood if we were told, ‘’Darling, I’m going to bring home a new wife - but I love you still...”
It takes time and patience for the child to fully grasp the meaning of adjusting to a new sibling.
Now I hear some of you saying, “Well that is good advice for those starting out on this journey – but what about those of us who have older children – is it too late?”
It is never too late in my opinion. Below are my six, top tips.
1. Don’t raise your voice. The children are probably just squabbling and sometimes just a directive for time apart is required - always try to think of a solitary activity. Try not to take sides because you often have only half the story eg my little girl explodes but it is often her brother who is more placid, niggles her.
2. Ask yourself “Are they tired, bored or hungry.” Those three things are enough to affect any of us in the way we view the world. Set about righting them and you will probably have restored peace.
3. Try not to directly compare siblings. Even something as simple as “why can’t you eat your veges like your sister?” encourages the resentment to well up and it makes it easier to fight with the sister at a later date.
4. You don’t have to treat your children the same way. You have to recognise and celebrate their differences. This will reduce the need to compete. Every child is unique and special ( I’ll talk about personality types and birth order another time)
5. Make some rules and encourage children to express their feelings in words. This teaches them good conflict resolution skills which they will need for later life.eg No verbal violence or taunting.
6. It is exceedingly difficult but try and stay calm. I learnt this in the car. I was driving along and the children were at it. I issued a “Don’t fight kids just get along.” Of course they continued. I took a deep breath, pulled over and turned up the CD player. They ceased quite quickly. “Mum why are you stopped for?” my child asked. To which I responded, “I can’t drive. If you are making a racket and bickering in the back seat – I’ll have an accident so I stopped driving until you are ready”. I was surprised by the apology that followed. Now just a threat is enough to curb any quarrelling.
Relationships between siblings last longer than probably any other. Our relationship with our siblings occurs earlier than most friendships and all being well will outlive the relationship we have with our parents. Through their adversarial roles our children will hopefully learn how to handle human relationships. How to manage competition without hostile aggression and how to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise.
Then one day we will get to be onlookers to the next generations squabbles with the humorous detachment of a grandparent.
Dr Julia Driscoll
Author of “My Story” – a personalised book that reduces sibling rivalry.