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Q&A with Eva Roditi: Dealing with sibling rivalry

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Eva Roditi
Bundoo Child Psychologist

Eva Benmeleh Roditi is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialization in the 0-5 age range.

It can be amazing how early sibling rivalry starts — sometimes even before the new baby is born! Sibling rivalry ranges from the occasional squabble between kids to a serious issue that can affect your whole family. Bundoo Child Psychologist, Eva Roditi, talks about how you can recognize sibling rivalry and manage it.

Bundoo: Most parents would obviously prefer that their children get along. Is there anything a parent or parents can do to help minimize sibling rivalry from the beginning?

Eva Roditi: Definitely! The most important thing is your attitude about the siblings. Make sure to include the older sibling in activities that involve the new baby. Yes, you will need one-on-one time with the new baby, but there are many things that can be done together or in the company of the older sibling. For example, the older sibling can be your “helper” and get the diapers or bottles. He/she can sit by you while you feed the baby and read a story or play quietly. It is important to remind your older child that no matter who else is born, your heart is so, so big that there is plenty of space for both of them and that you will love them no matter what.

How can parents recognize potentially damaging sibling rivalry? What are the typical signs?

Though quite common, any type of aggressive behavior is a sign of concern, but more so if the age gap is wide between siblings. If one child announces being loved more by one parent, begins name-calling, incessantly makes fun of the other sibling, regresses, wishes to be more like the other sibling, or does not demonstrate any empathy, you should be concerned. Also, parents should take note of how they treat each child — sibling rivalry can sometimes stem from the ways the parent relates to each child. Kids are quick to pick up on this. If discipline is vastly different for one child from the other, regardless of age or other characteristics, this can create rivalry as well.

Are there any positive aspects to sibling rivalry?

At times, it can create some competition that, if monitored by parents and the children themselves, can increase motivation in each child to excel in his or her area of expertise. However, the parents must note that the competition isn’t to put anyone down but to help the child excel in his or her area of choice. This is the perfect training for later social interactions. Also, children can learn how to cope with negative emotions, such as jealousy, and how to speak up about them.

If a family has a special needs child, and other children feel like their special needs sibling gets all the attention, what can a family do to balance their typical children’s needs and still make sure their special needs child receives the attention he or she needs?

It’s important to talk out feelings without judgment with the other children and explain the situation. Include them in planning special time (preferably individually, if possible) with each child that involves an activity that is child-led, even if it’s for 15 minutes. If possible, try to include the other children in activities that are for the special needs child so that they can feel responsible and helpful within the family unit.

What are some in-the-moment techniques parents can use to stop the fighting and reduce tension in the house?

Physical separation works well if the tension or physical fighting has gotten out of hand. Prior to that, talking about the effects comments have on the other child are important to foster open communication between the family members, as well as to demonstrate to each child how each other’s behaviors affect the other’s feelings. Also, try not to put anyone in charge, and instead let both of the children be their own bosses. Lastly, try to read between the lines. What are they truly arguing about? Don’t become the referee; try to be the mediator. Instead of taking sides or solving the problem for the kids, try to help them figure it out with your help. Ask each one what the problem is and rephrase what each one is saying to help them solve the problem.

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