Every family has their fair share of ‘you kids used to fight like cats and dogs’ sibling rivalry stories, most with a photo, video and these days the odd Youtube upload to prove it. Thank goodness history is full of anecdotes of what the little stinkers will do to get a one-up on each other, reassuring us newish parents that we’re not alone in this crazy dance.
What’s the Norm?
Sibling rivalry is most common between siblings of the same gender and who are close in age. This rivalry is usually expressed as fighting, arguing and a general intolerance to that other kid that is constantly in their space and touching their toys and stuff. That’s totally normal. Some of these arguments escalate into a three-day long Mexican stand-off style drama, usually over something very important, like a blue Lego bike. Still it’s totally normal.
What’s quite interesting is that kids don’t see it as a problem, they can bicker all week and still really like their brother or sister, whereas parents understandably get quite concerned (and annoyed) with the constant ‘Muuuuuummmm”¦”¦he’s looking at me, I hate her, he took my doll, she flushed my socks'”¦”¦again and again.
Should You Do Anything?
How you handle the situation can make a big difference. No one likes to be constantly compared to another person and children are no exception. It can be hard not to blurt ‘Can’t you behave like your brother?’ or ‘When are you going to grow up and do as you’re told like your sister?’ if you do happen to have an extra child not involved in the mayhem. When both (or all) of the kids feel like they are individually respected and treated with equal value to each other, levels of competition between the warring factions can decrease.
Still you’ll be forgiven for shouting ‘Shut up!’ at them when you’re refereeing the day’s third bout between Feisty and Whiney. It wears on even the most patient parent’s nerves. Probably best not to label your kids either, (especially Feisty and Whiney) self-fulfilling prophecies are created at a moment’s notice and you’ll be stuck with those personas forever if you give them a real voice!
Be calm as you can, explain to each of your squids why you’re being oh so unfair and not taking their side and that you love them very much. Then when you realise they’re not listening and have moved on their next agenda, best to make a cuppa and wait for the next round.
How Serious is Serious?
Kids do hit, bite, flick sand and throw things at each other. Hitting and biting are part of developmental stages of younger children which are grown out of quickly once they can communicate better. Older children who can already speak may still have communication difficulties, especially little boys who have much slower emotional self-regulation than little girls.
Boys can take a while to register what feeling it is they are having, so rather than listen to a little elevator music in their mind and consider the appropriate actions in a timely manner, they behave as they are wired to, quickly and angrily. Everything equals angry. Hungry, sad, tired, not understanding their brother or sister is wearing orange, everything just goes straight to angry and that’s a normal developmental stage.
What’s not normal is aggressive violence on a regular basis for either boys or girls. The persistent intention to inflict bodily harm, whether it’s for a provoked reason (one of those important arguments) or just because one child has it over the other if they are bigger, older or gets worked up into the state of being a nasty pasty, is unacceptable. You need to get professional help quickly.
Contact your Doctor or Child Health Nurse to get the ball rolling on getting help for your family.
There are a number of national and state (check online) helplines that can be of assistance:
- Family Relationship Advice Line 1800 050 321
- Parentline (QLD) 1300 301 300
- Lifeline 131114
- Kids Help Line 1800 551 800
Sour Grapes Over New Fruit
Jealousy over a new baby can lead to sibling rivalry in the ensuing years. Preparing your toddler or young child for the arrival of a new baby is a very good idea, making sure you’ve given them plenty of time to adjust to the notion that they might be sharing their main focus in life you and pretty much everything else in sight for the rest of time. Some little ones will be excited, some less than impressed and if your first born is little more than a baby themselves, they won’t understand and probably just ignore the newbie for a while until he can goo and gaa back at them.
Give yourself and your toddler plenty of time for any big, important changes, well before your due date. This can help a great deal with getting your child on board with special jobs for them to help you with and might smooth the transition for things like sleeping. If your child sleeps in the cot and you intend to use it for your newborn, be sure to get a ‘big kid’ bed for your toddler well in advance so that they have a special place just for themselves, rather than feel sad and jealous at the sudden loss of their cot.
Slowly and gently for all changes usually wins the race and eases jealousy of the new sibling.
If you are breastfeeding both your toddler and new baby, you need not feel overwhelmed at the prospect of a rampaging jealous tot screaming toward you each time you offer your newborn a feed, it’s a much calmer process than you might expect. I fed my two and a half-year-old toddler for six months after our squishy arrived, at first he always wanted to feed with the new bub, then a few days in, walked up and checked out the situation and just said ‘He’s having bouba’ and off he went to play, no drama.
It was a relief actually to know where my toddler was while I was feeding, loved that he was calm and snuggled up next to me and the baby. A nice little bonding exercise for us all I thought, though it didn’t stop him demanding I return the baby to the hospital or his mother when he was crying, and so I explained, again, that he was ours and I was his mummy, slowly and gently.