There is no way to completely eliminate the conflicts and rivalries that periodically arise between brothers and sisters. From toddlers to adults, it is the nature of humanity to resent perceived favoritism, to form long-lasting resentments that spring from compared achievements, or to simply be unhappy that someone else is the current center of attention. While every family experiences personal conflict, tips to alleviate sibling jealousy can help ease those tensions and restore peace.
The problems often begin when a second child is born, and parents are forced to concentrate their around-the-clock attention on the new arrival. The emotional reaction of the older child is not unlike that of an adult who has been surpassed by a younger employee at work, and feels strong resentments, or sometimes even hatred. A passive-aggressive adult response may take the form of verbal sabotage, but most kids are not nearly as guarded in their emotional reactions.
Small children show considerably less mistrust and jealousy when they are introduced to the new baby prior to birth. While there need be no lengthy or detailed biological explanation, showing a toddler or preschooler the new baby bump along with pictures of the infant growing and developing inside helps them better understand what is about to happen. It helps prepare them for the unavoidable changes a new family member brings.
After the new child is born, making a concerted effort to include the older siblings in the celebration is very helpful. This is a time when some children actually regress and act out their desire to return to a state of babyhood. Giving them actual responsibilities for the care of the new infant helps them still feel wanted, useful, and equally important to parents. Stressed-out adults may find it hard to spread time and attention fully, but even a small amount of direct interaction helps.
As children grow and develop, the dynamics of any family change. Arguments punctuated by arguing and hitting may become unfortunately common, and parents must mediate, even when they become exhausted with the seeming futility of their efforts. A common reinforcing error is to compare the behavior of two children, because no two can ever really be identical achievers. Constantly telling a child that he should emulate his athletic brother may only increase the certainty that he is loved less.
Families that place a high value on education may also encounter problems when the learning capabilities of siblings are openly compared, because someone always loses. Instead of fostering a renewed desire to succeed in academics, scholastic comparisons only creates resentments that often linger throughout adulthood. One of the most important things parents can do is to recognize and emphasize the individual talents of their children without using other family members as a benchmark.
It is also helpful to avoid damaging labels in the form of nicknames referring to size, clumsiness, or other socially negative traits, including a perceived lack of masculine or feminine qualities. Reinforcement of negative stereotypes last for years, and are difficult to divest internally. When a brother or sister is constantly called stupid or dumb within the context of daily family life, they begin to accept that judgment as true.
Young children benefit from learning personal honesty at an early age, especially when related to fabrications that are meant to shine a negative light on a resented sibling. It is important for youngsters to realize the difference between making up false stories about the behavior of others, and the need to report real problems that can cause harm. Adults who make that difference clear find that spending even a small amount of time in undivided attention helps reinforce the concept.
One of the best ways to eliminate jealousy is to allocate an area of space within the home that a child can think of as completely his or her own. While that would ideally be a bedroom, there are other ways to accomplish that goal. Kids can be given a special box for their own toys, receive special recognition for their personal achievements on a bulletin board or refrigerator, and be allowed to celebrate the individuality they are already expressing.
Insecurity and conflict within the family unit is a bigger problem when love and affection are rarely demonstrated openly, or normally take the form of teasing. Sibling resentment and jealousy becomes less of an issue when each child knows unequivocally that he or she is loved independently of grades, activities, or obvious shortcomings. Homes that do not permit physical aggression experience less overt violence, and children respond well when parents show real respect for their individuality.