My kids fight over everything — not just toys (but oh God, yes, toys), but also things as mundane as who gets to brush their teeth first in the morning. Don’t get me wrong: My children can be ever so sweet to each other too, but sometimes it feels as if their relationship is more “Game of Thrones” than “The Brady Bunch.”
If this sounds familiar, I have good news: Your kids aren’t monsters. “It’s normal to have conflict,” said Laura Markham, Ph.D., a Manhattan-based psychologist and the author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.” “Every human relationship has conflict because it’s two individuals with different needs.” Or, sometimes, two individuals who need the exact same stuffed animal at the exact same time. That one happens a lot in our house, too.
But the fact that sibling conflict is normal doesn’t mean you’re doomed to another decade of pretending you don’t hear your kids screaming at one another while you cook dinner. There are steps you can take to prevent conflict before it happens, and even things you can do to help your kids start resolving disputes by themselves. As I learned when I dug into the research on sibling conflict, I’ve been doing pretty much everything wrong — which, on the bright side, suggests that if I change my approach, I can look forward to less yelling and more hugging. Well, maybe not hugging. That’s asking a lot.
Give older siblings one-on-one time, and treat siblings equitably
You may have heard that your eldest is going to feel jealous and resentful of her new little sibling. This idea has been around since Freud, but the fact is, “the science doesn’t support it,” said Brenda Volling, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Michigan. In a 2017 analysis of the research literature, Dr. Volling and her colleagues concluded that “most children experience little to no disruption after the birth of their infant sibling.” Many kids, she said, feel quite excited about their new little siblings. This doesn’t mean the transition won’t be difficult — a baby is a big change for everyone — but typically, Dr. Volling said, families feel somewhat back to normal after a few months.
Still, older siblings notice that they are no longer getting all the attention, so set aside time, if you can, to spend with them one-on-one. (This can be tough for breastfeeding moms, but it may be possible if you have a partner or grandparent who can help.) Praise your older child, too, when he does something kind or helpful. “Bring some of the attention back to him so he can feel this moment of pride that, ‘Yeah, I’m a big boy and a big brother and I’ve been helping out too,’” Dr. Volling suggested. And when your older child gets frustrated with his sibling — as will inevitably happen — acknowledge his feelings, but also set limits. You’re mad that the baby grabbed your teddy bear! But she doesn’t understand that it’s yours, and no matter how upset you feel, it’s not O.K. to hit.
Read the full article at The New York Times.