By Diane Burton
Sibling rivalry is a worry for parents. The only way to avoid it is to have only one child. Hubs is an only child. I’m the oldest of seven. Sibling rivalry abounded in our house. My mother, who had one older brother—the apple of their father’s eye—didn’t realize how physical sibling rivalry between boys could get until my two oldest brothers became teens. Can you say dry-wall repair?
On her brother’s birthday each year, our daughter writes on Facebook how he ended her year as an only child. They had their squabbles—okay, let’s call them what they were, fights. Not physical but that bickering that drives parents crazy. I’d hoped they would be friends. LOL Isn’t that what all parents hope for? Now that they are adults and have children of their own, I see that friendship, that closeness I prayed for when they were younger.
Rivalry usually starts with the birth of a second child. Before that, the oldest child had all Mom’s attention. Now, she has to share that attention with a baby. When oldest wants Mom, she’s told to wait while Mom takes care of baby. I read somewhere to combat that feeling of being left out, the parent should occasionally tell baby to wait because oldest needs her. Baby doesn’t understand but oldest does. I try to do that when I babysit the grandkids. Toddler Girl had all Mom’s attention for two and a half years. Then “the brothers” came. And twins are double demanding.
One thing I always hated was being told “you’re the oldest, you should know/do better.” When I hear others day that to their children now, I cringe. Labels like that, or comparisons, foster resentment—not toward the parent but to the sibling(s).
“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (a TV series inspired by “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”) deals with all kinds of childhood dilemmas from the point of view of four-year-old Daniel, a bear. With Toddler Girl on my lap, we often watch Daniel’s adventures. One of my favorite episodes deals with Mom and Dad taking care of Baby and missing Daniel’s efforts. He pouts and gets mad. Typical signs of sibling rivalry. His parents soothe him by pointing out there’s time for Daniel and Baby, too. Of course, that’s not the end. Nothing is ever that simple. Other episodes deal with the same issue. While my daughter-in-law was expecting, Toddler Girl and I watched those episodes. I DVR’d them to watch often. Now that her brothers are here, we’re rewatching them. I want her to know that what she feels is typical. And how to deal with it.
Children want/need their parents’ attention. They want to feel like they’re special and that the parents love them. When they feel that they are getting unequal amounts of attention, discipline, and/or responsiveness, they resent it. And that leads to rivalry.
Here’s an excellent article on sibling rivalry and how to deal with it.
Don’t play favorites is the first rule in eliminating sibling rivalry. And don’t compare. That’s where my younger sister had the hardest time. Learning came easy for me. Not for her. I got good grades, she didn’t. Teachers often said why can’t you be more like your sister. How awful for her. Shame on those teachers. On the other hand, I always thought my sister was Dad’s favorite. When the other five brothers and sister came along, the two of us got lost in the mix. As a parent and a grandparent, I can appreciate how difficult having all those children must have been for Mom.
The article I mentioned, above, suggests “alone” time with each child. While not easily managed in a household where both parents work outside the home, that alone time can foster better family relationships. Think about a few minutes at bedtime with each child. That could include reading a story to each child separately and listening to each child tell about their day.
Whatever you as a parent/grandparent do with the children to foster self-esteem, to appreciate each child for their individual talents, giving them your undivided attention will go a long way to reduce rivalry between them.
As a parent of two, grandmother of five, and the oldest of seven, I wish you the best in treating your children/grandchildren well.
About the Author
Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and the Alex O’Hara PI mystery series.
She is also a contributor to two anthologies: Portals, Volume 2, and How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in West Michigan. They have two children and five grandchildren.
You can read Diane's "Family Life" column the 3rd Wednesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.