Raising Children of Peace

Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones

Chapter 2 Parents and Children

Sibling Rivalry
Chet Johnson

Sibling rivalry occurs in almost every family with more than one child. Parents will attest that almost all brothers and sisters fight. Sibling rivalry is, in fact, a predictable, normal and healthy response to the birth of a new brother or sister, and happens because the older child is threatened by the new member of the family.

Rivalry is most common in families where children are close together in age, with brothers close in age having the most difficulty. However, parents may be comforted to know that the closer the children are in age, the greater the chance they will have a close relationship as adults.

Unsettled by Changes

Why do siblings fight? The arrival of a new infant into the family represents a crisis for even the best prepared toddler. The toddler does not hate or resent the new baby, but he is unsettled by the change that this additional brother or sister produces. This process, known as "dethronement," is one in which mother and father now share their love and attention with someone else. The older child is no longer in the spotlight. The usual routine has changed, and he may even lose his crib-just when he thought he was in control of his world.

It is not so difficult to understand the child's feelings, especially when he or she has, as the firstborn, experienced the wonderful position of being number one. It also seems to be most difficult for two-year-olds. Three- and four-year-old children are more secure with themselves and have relationships other than the one with their parents.

The firstborn's reaction to the birth of a brother or sister is a change in behavior that is either aggressive or regressive. These behaviors may be directed against the parent or the brother or sister. Typical aggressive behaviors include hitting, pinching, attempting to lift the baby off the parent's lap, covering the baby with a blanket, intentionally hugging the baby too tightly, or doing other things that he knows are not allowed.

Regressive behaviors, which occur in areas of functioning, include problems with toilet training or bet wetting, using a bottle for feeding, thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, temper tantrums, increased crying, withdrawal, demanding behaviors, or clinging.

Preparing for the New Arrival

All children need to be prepared for the arrival of a new sibling. Positive ways to do this include making the child feel he is loved and needed. Encourage him to tell you how he feels about the new baby, and allow him to share in shop ping, perhaps by picking out a new toy for the baby. You may acknowledge negative feelings, but avoid punishment. Books about the new baby coming may be helpful, and you could also allow the child to accompany his mother to a prenatal doctor's visit to listen to the baby's heartbeat.

After the arrival of the new baby, include the older child in visits to the hospital. Allow the mother to spend time with the toddler before introducing the new brother or sister.

Upon arrival of guests coming to meet the new baby, instruct them to greet the toddler before directing their attention to the baby. If guests bring gifts, it is a good idea if they bring a small gift for the older child as well.

It also helps to allow the older child to participate in the care of the baby, and to let him hold the baby with supervision.

Both mother and father should spend at least twenty minutes a day of "special time" with the older child-out of the house, if possible.

Remember that time spent together is more important than candy or gifts.

Children need to know it is okay to sometimes dislike the baby as long as they do not take out their anger on the baby. For children having problems with aggressive or regressive behavior, it is best to reinforce the age-appropriate behavior in both children without blaming either child. The best thing to do is keep reassuring the child that he is as loved as he was before.

As the children grow older, fighting sometimes ensues. There is often a natural tendency for parents to hold the older child responsible and in some ways blame them for tensions in the relationships between siblings. It's helpful to look more deeply at the dynamics in the relationships. The older may appear like the aggressor, ready to strike, while what the younger did to annoy or provoke the older often goes unnoticed. Therefor it is best for parents to hold both siblings responsible for the conflict. Parents should listen to both sides and then help them win victories in the relationship by each making some changes.

There is often a tendency for the older sibling to feel unloved. This is best countered by giving each child their own responsibilities and jobs. Each will then feel his or her importance in the family group and parental appreciation as well. In many cultures, the eldest child is rewarded with a special position in the family. Although they often have more responsibility, they also enjoy a greater sense of security with the parents and a position of respect with regard to younger siblings. In any case, however parents do it, it is important for us as parents to help each child feel special.

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