Sibling jealousy can raise its ugly green eyes in homes at any time.
From the moment of knowing about the upcoming addition of a new baby right through to every day relationships between any aged siblings – even adults, jealousy happens and it can turn ugly if left unchecked. It’s a very normal human emotion that most children – and adults – will experience at some time in their lives. Gently, lovingly and consistently managing it when it arises between siblings is a wonderful platform on which to build even more skills to manage it in school, at work and within relationships.
The most common types of sibling jealousy
New addition jealousy
Adding a new member to a family is generally a huge joy for parents – but can spell DISASTER to a little person. Having your share of love, affection and attention threatened is a BIG thing for children. In a world where, developmentally, most little people are all about themselves for the first 5 years of their life, making physical and emotional space for another child is a big ask. Early inclusion of the big sibling in getting ready for the arrival of the new one – and allocating them some very important jobs confirms their importance.
“You love her more than me!” Heard it? Most parents have and it’s certainly not uncommon in childhood to hear this sad refrain or any of its many variations. When a child feels like their sibling is either taking more of the available attention, has increased needs leading to an unequal distribution or has a better relationship with the parent swaying that balance of attention out of their favour – then tough times can follow. Whilst some parents over-compensate, others find themselves actively defending their position and their time allocation per child. Ugh. Dangerous – both of those options.
Other than twins, siblings are different ages. They’re also different personalities, they can be different genders – which means that their interests and talents are going to be very different. The expensive ballet shoes for one might not translate into an equally priced possession for another. That’s life – but it can become a HUGE issue within families.
Different aged siblings get different privileges at different times – well, they should! Bedtimes, going out, pocket money, when movies can be watched (please, don’t even start me on this one!) – it makes simple sense that the older child gets a bit more – and gives a bit more in return. There’s some healthy building of resilience in waiting to be afforded the same privilege as an older sibling.
Siblings who are good at different things usually do better than siblings who are good at the same thing. It’s much harder to compare horse riding with spelling achievement. When siblings do the same activities or are good at the same things, it can be on for young and old. Whilst a bit of competition is healthy, when siblings pit themselves against each other, nothing good happens.
The 3 ‘C’s for managing sibling jealousy for all ages
Conversations – start them early. Prepare, be kind and gentle and know that your child has their emotional intelligence “L” plates on. Talk often about what’s coming up – whether it be a new baby, a change to rules, a sibling getting an award or doing something new. Conversations in families are powerful in helping children to adapt to and accept change. Make time to have the conversation – actually set time aside. Choose a time that’s not too busy or is going to be interrupted. Prepare your child for the conversation. You might say, “After school today I want to talk to you about something important – it’s got to do with Henry’s horse-riding.” If there’s push back, “I don’t want to talk about Jane and merit award!” then give enough time to come around to having the conversation and offer alternative times to have it. I hope you’re noticing that the end point is that you have the conversation – you just manage the process respectfully.
For big changes, start really, really early and focus attention on the good that will come out of it. For example, if an older sibling’s bedtime is going to change on their birthday, prepare the younger sibling weeks in advance. Talk about how exciting it is getting bigger and being able to get some more big kid privileges. Wonder out loud what that will feel like when the younger sibling gets to that age. Never, ever underestimate the power of a planned conversation with a child. It’s respectful, loving and acknowledges a child’s feelings in a supported context.
Celebration – create a system of celebrating achievements and milestones in your family. It might be a special candle brought out at dinner, a family handshake, a celebration night – that’s scheduled in where everyone’s achievements are noticed and celebrated. The best thing about celebrating systematically is it becomes it’s very own reward – no money or presents need to change hands. When families celebrate, each child is allowed to carve out their own identity and it reduces – even eliminates – competition and comparison. There’s nothing more uplifting as a parent than to see your children celebrating each other’s achievements and milestones.
Consistency – in rewards, in giving, in timing of privileges the key to success is consistency. I let my son #4 watch a movie at 10 that son #3 had to wait until 12 to watch. If you think I’ve heard the end of that… In fact, if his older brothers want to wind up #3 they just remind him that #4 watched that movie earlier. Wind him up and watch him spin- they love it, I’m not so much of a fan. Lesson learned. In saying that, fair has to be differentiated from equal. There are some things that can be equal, but the older sibling who has to go to bed at the same time as their younger sibling to avoid a tantrum has every right to feel ripped off. Consistency in parenting – as a general rule is a solid foundation practice – and most certainly when squelching the sibling green-eyed monster it’s a must.
Jealousy is a very normal human emotion and it commonly occurs in homes between siblings. In families, it can be damaging to the point of irreparable family rifts and deeply fractured relationships. So, making sure that it is targeted appropriately and consistently in childhood can only lead to better sibling relationships – now and into their futures. Finding champions for your achievements and successes is tough – so having a sibling to cheer you along and not pull you down should be part of the core business of every parent.
Read more articles from Claire Orange, Australian Parenting Expert, here: