“It’s not fair!” How to manage siblings who bicker and squabble

Posted in Relationships.
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Let’s be honest, when you start think about adding to your little family, parents never spend much time dwelling on how their children are going to get on together.

Sure, there will be an adjustment period for the older children when you bring a new baby home, and yes, there will be some inevitable bickering between siblings, but love will win the day, right?!

Sometimes, though, it can seem that family harmony is a difficult thing to achieve right from the get-go. Your kids just don’t seem to want to get along together. If this is the case at your place, it can be hard to know what to do to make everyone get on a little bit better.

Dr Vanessa Lapointe is a psychologist and the author of Parenting Right From the Start and has some good advice to share.

Sibling rivalry is all about YOU!

While it might seem obvious, preparing an older sibling for the arrival of a new baby is the best first place to start if you want to make the transition smooth.

What you need to remember, Vanessa explains, is that the biggest thing with sibling rivalry is that it actually has nothing to do with the relationship between your children and everything to do with a perception around a scarcity of resource. And that resource is you!

“Your love is going to be divided in two, your time is going to be divided in two. You have become a scarce resource. And so there is competition for your attention, your love and your affection,” Vanessa says. “One of the most beautiful things that you can do for an older sibling is really talk with them about the expanse of a parent’s heart – that isn’t divided up when a new baby comes home, but rather a whole other heart grows for that child. And so each child has their own sort of access to never ending love from that parent.”

Listen to Dr Vanessa Lapointe on Feed Play Love

Reassuring your child that they don’t have to be concerned about you loving them any less can be just the reassurance they need.

“If you think about what it would be like if your partner brought home a new wife and all of a sudden now they’re wearing all your old clothes and getting all your old toys, and you’re supposed to just nail a smile to your face and be happy about that!” Vanessa says laughingly.

Explained like that, sibling rivalry starts to make a lot more sense. That’s a little what it’s like for our children.

So we need to have big, compassionate, soft hearts and to step in when they have big reactions. Young children can’t hang onto their emotions because of their age, so it is inevitable that there will be some fallout from that. And it’s all about working on the relationship that you have with the child, rather than worrying about the relationship between your children.

Siblings unhappy and fighting sitting on couch with parents in background - feature

The juggle is real

The realities of balancing the often competing needs of your children can really hit home quickly once you’re home with your new baby and in the thick of very hands-on parenting. So how do you split your attention between your children in a way that is fair and equitable (and avoids squabbling and upset)?

Vanessa says that firstly you have to make peace with the fact that there is simply less of you to go around – but this doesn’t make you any less of a parent.

Once you’ve digested the reality of this, she explains, you need to look for support and ask for help.

“You need to know that you were never meant to go this alone. You’re supposed to have a village. You’re supposed to be able to rely on other people,” Vanessa explains. “Look at how we used to raise our children in generations past; there were tribes and villages and people holding parents up on pedestals so that parents could really step in and do their job.”

“And now in our modern-day times, we have to back-door the village. So find who your people are, so that you get a little bit of a breather and can spend some focused time with your children and even yourself.”

“It’s not fair”

For those amongst us who seem to be raising children who constantly have one eye on the family Fairness Chart – “he got more than me”, “she went first yesterday”, “kiss me first” – and bickering seems to be constant background noise, Vanessa has this to say: 

“When a little brother comes along, there’s going to be a disturbance in the field and [your daughter] is going to spend a long time – several years probably – adjusting to that disturbance. And that’s not all bad. We don’t actually want for our children’s journey through life to be constantly sunshine and roses, because where there’s no challenge, there’s no growth.”

So it’s OK for parents to allow their children to struggle with that a little bit.

“We don’t have to fix any of it,” says Vanessa. “We can step in, and say, ‘I get how you could feel that I was leaving you out. Tell me more about that. Sometimes it’s really hard to be a big sister, isn’t it?'”

“See? I’m not fixing any of it. All I’m doing is saying that I am seeing you and hearing you. And when we can increasingly do that, then the relationship is fortified. And so you don’t have to make it go away. You just have to honour it for what it is, and understand that kids are going to be kids, siblings or not.”

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