Learning About Sibling Rivalry

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What is sibling rivalry?

Often an older child will feel jealous when you have a new baby. It may take a few months before a child shows signs of these feelings. But after some time, your child will realize that the baby is there to stay. That's when you may start to see strong emotions and behavior problems. This is called sibling rivalry.

Sibling rivalry happens between older children too. Children have a strong need for attention. And they need positive feedback from their parents. Conflict often happens because children feel they are competing with their siblings for this attention.

How can you prepare for sibling rivalry?

Before a new baby arrives:

  • Talk to older siblings about the new baby early in the pregnancy. Talk to your child about their special role in the family. For instance, you might say, "You are the baby's only big brother. You can help us teach her about life. That's very special."
  • Ask your child's opinion when getting ready for the baby. You might ask about decorating the baby's room or picking out clothes.
  • Visit your local library or bookstore to find books that teach your child about having a new baby in the home.
  • Remember that sibling rivalry often gets more intense after the baby is past the newborn stage. This is when your older child realizes that this life change is here to stay. Plan ahead for these changes by learning how to manage this behavior.

How can you manage sibling rivalry?

After a baby is born

  • Give your older child a role in daily care. Your child can help bring diapers to you, choose the baby's clothing, hold the baby, be in charge of a toy, or push the stroller.
  • Praise your child for helping with the baby. Remind your child how important their role is.
  • Plan time alone with your older child.
  • Reassure your child that your love for the baby will not replace the love you have for your child.
  • Prepare your child for not getting all the attention. Say things like, "Your baby brother will get a lot of attention at the party. That's because people love babies, not because they don't like you."
  • Give your child extra attention when the baby is being fawned over. Ask close friends or relatives to give the older child extra attention at these times.

With older siblings

  • Encourage siblings to work out problems on their own. Make sure they are solving the problem in a respectful way. Don't let one child take advantage of the other.
  • Separate siblings when needed, such as when a conflict is not being resolved in a respectful or reasonable way. Sometimes your children will need their own space.
  • Don't pick sides. Show your children that you love and support them equally. Avoid comparing them to each other.
  • If you have to help manage a bigger conflict, treat each sibling fairly. Listen to both sides.
  • Teach your children healthy ways to disagree and resolve conflicts. Set guidelines. Children may need to be told not to yell, hit, or call each other names.

Where can you learn more?

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