While it’s true that kids will have disputes among themselves just as adults do, many people look to Qabil and Habil not as an extreme situation but rather as proof that sibling rivalry is an uncontrollable aspect of childhood.
As a young parent I didn’t have any plans to deal with sibling rivalry, but while I was pregnant with my second child I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to get a step up on curbing it before the new baby came.
While I was taking a language course, my two year old had won a much coveted space in the school’s exceptionally well-run daycare. This was no ordinary daycare; it was the hands-on training facility for students in the early childhood education program.
The care-providers were extremely diligent, as they were being continually monitored for class credit. And the on-the-floor director (she almost always literally sat on the floor with the kids as part of the pedagogy) had the calm and considerate personality perfect for dealing with young children.
She was soft spoken, choosing her words wisely, and did far more listening than talking. It seemed instinctual the way that she knew each child’s disposition and needs, but rather she had decades of experience interacting with innumerable young children. When the director approached me one day offering advice on how to curb sibling rivalry with the new baby, I listened intently and followed it.
There had once been several children in the daycare at the same time from one family. Noticeably, these children did not exhibit typical sibling rivalry stuff. The siblings chose to play with each other even when there was a selection of other kids around to choose from, and they played nicely with each other. These siblings obviously loved and liked each other. The director asked the mom what was her secret to curbing sibling rivalry.
The first step to curbing sibling rivalry
When this mom was pregnant with her second child, her pediatrician told her about a trick to curb sibling rivalry. What the parents must do is convince the first born child that the second child already loves him/her. It’s that simple. Let your child know that this new baby already loves them and the child won’t feel left out of the excitement (or worse, traded in) when the new baby arrives.
I am real stickler about not lying to kids as it is a very common parenting practice, so I am careful about how I essentially speak on behalf of the expected baby. I don’t want to come across as if I am repeating the baby’s words- remember these are young children I am talking to – but I do believe that since the baby is born in a natural state of fitrah that includes loving their family. So while I am still pregnant (I have done this a few times now) I take the time to talk to my toddler about the coming baby, phrasing my statements very carefully:
“The baby can hear you, and I’m sure that she loves you very much.”
“I’m sure that the baby is excited to meet you.”
“Soon she will be so happy to see you.”
Then after the baby is born I further cement the relationship between infant and child by saying things like:
“Look at how she is smiling at you. She must think you are a great brother!”
“She likes how you gently kiss her and hold her hand.”
Creating physical bonds
As I attempt to make positive reinforcing statements, I also encourage physically bonding between the baby and toddler or older sibling. In many families, parents rightfully fear for the safety of their infants, but to the point that they completely exclude their older children from interacting with the baby. It’s understandable that parents want to keep the noise of older children away from sleeping babies, but when baby is awake the older child is often not allowed to even touch the baby which very quickly builds up resentment in the child.
When older children seemingly lash out and hit babies or throw toys at them, this is usually because they long to touch and interact with the baby and are upset that they are denied. By the time the baby is big enough to play with, the older child has already developed animosity for their sibling. Denying the child’s desire to interact and touch the baby fosters sibling rivalry.
How to ‘play’ with baby
When the baby is awake, fed and in a calm mood, I let my toddler hold the baby under my close supervision. The toddler and I sit cross legged on the floor or bed, knees to knees and I place my hands under theirs while they cradle the baby in their lap.
These sittings are usually very brief but well worth the time, as the toddlers are happy to get what they want and then want to move on to something more interesting. It isn’t always possible to let the toddler hold the baby when they want to, but just occasionally holding the baby every few days or so can even make the toddler feel rightfully included in the experience of bonding with the baby.
If this small window of opportunity to curb sibling rivalry at the get go was missed, a wavering relationship should not be dismissed with an attitude that “They just hate each other.” Sibling relationships usually outlast those of the parents and child, and can be immensely beneficial.
Your children’s diversity should be used as a means to strengthen their relationships, not to divide them. One of the most common roots of sibling rivalry is that children believe that their parents prefer one child over the other and this is often based on the way parents compare children with comments like, ‘Why can’t you do such and such, like so and so.’
Rather than negatively comparing them to each other, help your children to recognize their individual strengths and weaknesses, then demonstrate how they are able to complement each other. While they may find some of each others’ characteristics and habits bothersome, remind them of the good ways they help each other and can work well together.
Unlike school where all children are expected to fulfill the same tasks, at home children should be allowed to grow in a stress-free way that fosters cooperation and celebrates their individuality.
First published: April 2016