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Sorting out sibling rivalry

“Dad, Sis called me a dork … again!” Ah, the joys of parenting! The first child was so wonderful you thought another one would double your pleasure. Instead, you spend half your waking hours preventing World War III from breaking out in your living room. Although some sibling rivalry is to be expected, you may need a little help changing your home from a battlefield to neutral territory.

  • Treat each child as an individual. It’s hard for kids to develop a sense of who they are when they’re constantly being compared to a sibling. Try to recognize each child’s unique traits and skills. Keep in mind that children may avoid or perform badly in a certain activity, like school or sports, if a sibling’s success in that field overshadows his or her own performance.
  • Spend as much time alone with each child as possible. You might consider alternating special Saturday afternoon activities with each sibling.
  • Don’t expect your kids to share. Most often, fights start over a borrowed toy. “Susie won’t give me my truck back!” Forcing your children to give up their things even for a short amount of time will make them possessive and controlling. Instead, teach them the benefits of sharing (“If you let Susie play with your truck, maybe she’ll let you read her book.”) and recognize positive efforts (“Isn’t it wonderful of Mark to teach you how to play with his truck!”). Some toys may be too special to share, like a talking Elmo or a complex Lego castle. Give each child a space for toys they may want to keep to themselves.
  • Don’t pressure siblings to play together. A significant age gap between kids will cause problems come playtime. For example, a 4- and a 7-year-old playing a board game together may lead to the older child’s quickly taking control of the game. Let each child play according to his or her own skill level.
  • Be an example. It’s okay for your children to witness your squabbles with other people—as long as you follow the rules you laid out for them. Staying in control of your emotions will teach your kids to do the same.