You may already know that the root of all sibling rivalry is sharing of parent resources. It’s not possible to clone ourselves (although wouldn’t that be nice once in a while?), so focusing 100% of our energy and attention on only one of our children feels like an unattainable dream. This is a frustrating dilemma. We know the problem (sharing parent resources) and we know we can’t solve it directly (cloning ourselves so each child gets all of our attention all the time). Throw in the sober realization that our children may have very different personalities, different interests, and different needs, and the problem is compounded even further. Here are my top tips for parenting sibs:
-Parent individually, not equally. You allow your 4-year old more freedom than your 2-year old for a reason: developmentally, they’re ready for more responsibility, they can better control their impulses (although not all the time), and their play is more complex. Remind your older child that they, too, needed help, guidance, and support from mom and dad when they were young. Enlist their help with the younger sib when they’re in a good mood.
-Celebrate the positive. Sibs learn valuable skills from each other. They get daily practice with sharing, compromises, conflict resolution, and the ability to cope with strong emotions. They develop interpersonal skills, not to mention great negotiation tactics.
-Provide protected play space for each child. Even if your older child has better sharing skills, it shouldn’t mean they have to share everything. Create a protected play space (such as those gated play yards) for your older child. They can build their block cities inside without worrying about a younger sib knocking it over. Assign a shelf to each child to put special toys they don’t want to share. (Keep it small so they can’t pack every toy they own on the shelf!)
-Family comes first. Find your favorite mantra to remind kids we’re a unit, we watch out for each other, we help each other, and we thrive together. Each of us brings our own special talents and expertise to the running of the household. Allow children to take responsibility for age-appropriate chores, so everyone is invested in the success of the group.
And if you can find it, set aside some one-on-one time with each child once a day (even 10 minutes helps) or even once a week. A trip to the park with mom, a walk around the block (at the child’s pace) with dad; these special moments provide valuable opportunities to get to know your child’s individual preferences, budding sense of humor, and unique point of view. The result: a strong parent-child bond and the achievement (if only for 10 minutes!) of giving each child that full attention they crave.
Heidi Emberling, MA