“How can I prevent sibling rivalry?” is probably one of the questions almost all parents ask. The most important adjustment a first child will ever make will be to learn to share – his parents and everything in his world – with the next child. Having a sibling makes this necessary. Learning to share is an important asset for anyone.
One would not want to avoid the adjustment demanded of a first child. The issue becomes – how do you help him make it with as little pain as possible?
One way is to help draw the older child into a nurturing role with the new baby. That way he can identify with and imitate the parents as they care for the baby.
Identification with parents is one of the factors that moderates and prevents the rivalry between siblings for a parents’ affection. There are a number of steps parents can take to encourage this identification and to help the older children get through this important adjustment as well as prevent sibling rivalry.
• Prepare the older child for your hospitalization. Warn him that you are going away for a few days to have a baby but that he can come to visit or he can telephone her. And he will be with his father or grandmother who will take great care of him.
• When you come home with the baby bring a special lovey – a new doll or a teddy bear or even a truck that he can nurture when you nurture your baby. If you want to prevent sibling rivalry this tip alone will help you a lot.
• When the new baby first comes home from the hospital find many small ways in which the older child can help, from bringing you a diaper or blanket for the baby to rocking the infant’s cradle. The more the older child can participate in the new chores, the less he will feel excluded.
• When you must diaper or feed the baby let the older child help. Warn him that you will be busy but after it’s over you’ll sit with him to cuddle him and read to him. But don’t be surprised if he still doesn’t like it.
• When you have visitors or when you all go out together make sure the older child is ready for the fuss that will be made over the new baby. Hold the other child, focus some of the conversation on him and tell him ahead of time that people get a little foolish about babies, but that they think he is special too.
• When the baby gets big enough to prowl about, make sure the older child has a private space that is safe from the baby’s invasions. Use a gate or a toy chest that the baby can’t open. Show the older child how to distract the baby with a toy while he protects his own treasures.
• When you must leave the older child to attend to the baby, give him choices about what he can do during that time. Ask him if he would like to go find a friend or do something on his own or help you. Tell him about the special time you’ll have alone with him when the baby is asleep. He won’t necessarily want it when the time comes, but you can use his refusal to point out how grown up and independent he’s getting to be.
• Have a special time for him every week when you and he go out alone and use it to point out that he’s still your important boy and that you need to be with him alone.
• When siblings have squabbles that become physical, you must step in and put an end to them. By making sure the baby is safe from physical harm, you’ll make the older child feel more comfortable too and take away anxiety that his aggressive feelings will get out of control.
• In quarrels that do not involve physical harm, however, do not interfere or take sides. Let them work it out. The younger child must learn to stand up for himself and the older one must learn to compromise. If you want to prevent sibling rivalry, you must keep out of arguments in order to avoid creating a triangle.