By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Dealing with Sibling Jealousy: Attention
Equal doesn’t always have to be equal. You don’t have to always give equal treats, equal attention, equal time and equal toys to your children. You need to only give these things in the approximate amount that each child needs, and your children will perceive that as equal and fair.
Let’s say one child needs 10 minutes of attention, but the other one had a challenging day and, therefore, needs 30 minutes in order to feel content. Although one child may receive more attention, that is considered equal and fair because each child is getting what he or she needs. If, however, the child who received only 10 minutes is resentful, that means 10 was not enough to fulfill his or her needs, and you should give him or her more attention. It could be that both children need more attention, in which case you simply must find the time to give it to them.
Dealing with Sibling Jealousy: Treats and Toys
Let’s say one child is particularly bored or stressed and needs and emergency toy in order to stay calm and well-behaved. Your other child might already be happily engaged in an enjoyable activity, so you may not need to give a toy to both children. If one complains his or her piece of cake is smaller, don’t stress trying to make them equal, just give more to the one who’s complaining. Remember the key is not to get things exactly equal but to satisfy everyone’s needs fully.
Understanding Each Child’s Needs
If a child asks you, “Who do you love more, me or him,” we need to think about what this child needs to hear. Usually, he or she feels insecure about the parent’s love and needs to be reassured. “I love you both the same” does not accomplish this. Rather, in this instance, we need to generously express our love for the child who is asking. There is no need to talk about your other child. Instead, say, “You are so special to me, I love you so much there is no one in the world just like you.”.
Resolving Anger and Fights Between Siblings
If one child hits another, avoid giving attention to the aggressor even if it is negative attention. Rather, give attention to the victim, “Ooh, that must have hurt, here’s a kiss, I’m so sorry he hit you. He needs to learn to use words, not fists. Come on, I’m going to read you a story.”
Parenting experts Faber and Mazlish (2012) give some great tips to resolve sibling fights, and I have added my own ideas and elucidation.
First, acknowledge each child’s anger towards the other. “You’re really angry at him, and it looks like you’re also angry at her.” This alone validates their experience and helps dissipate the anger. Next, inquire about and restate each child’s side of the issue. “Oh, you’re angry because he took away your toys, and you’re angry because he wouldn’t let you play with them.” This helps your children communicate their needs and wishes to each other and moves them towards a resolution. Now, show appreciation for the difficulty of the situation. “Wow, this is really difficult, two children who both want to play with the same toys at the same time. This is a tough one.” Then say, “I have confidence that you two can work out a solution by yourselves that’s fair to both of you.” At this point you should leave the room, showing your children you trust that they can resolve their conflict. If this still doesn’t work, you can suggest some compromises they may not have considered, but allow them to choose whether or not to implement them. Alternately, you can distract them by suggesting they play a game, have a snack or watch TV. When dealing with sibling conflict, distracting your children with an alternate activity can defuse sibling rivalry before a fight begins.
Kindly bear in mind that the above techniques for dealing with sibling jealousy represent a parenting ideal.
It takes time to implement them, and they need not be carried out perfectly. So, have patience with yourself and put these ideas into practice little by little.
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don’t hesitate to give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!