Sibling rivalry…ugh! Every family with more than one child will have to deal with the arguing, name-calling, teasing, and shouting at some point. If the family has a child with chronic health issues or other special needs, the problem may be even more intense. What’s a parent to do?
Be aware that resentments can form if a parent is having to spend more time with a sibling with special needs, the time spent at appointments, the time dealing with public incidents, the extra time spent helping with school work, etc. There can also be bad feelings if the typically developing child has to take on extra duties around the house or feels the pressure to achieve to compensate for his sibling’s challenges.
Does this apply only to families with a child having learning, health or other issues? No! In every family there will be special dynamics that form when one child performs at a higher level in sports, music, academics or in other areas. Resentment and rivalry flourish in those situations and it’s completely normal.
Here are some suggestions for you:
Talk it out
Talk to each child individually. Share age-appropriate information and point out the strengths of their sibling. Be open to questions and do not judge when they express their feelings. Allowing your child to talk freely and to ask questions will help them to feel empowered, and to help them to feel positively about their sibling.
Take advantage of those special, teachable moments
Pay attention and notice when challenging instances pop up. These are opportunities to communicate, teach, and model good behavior. This is how family members learn to support each other and to be tolerant of each other’s differences. Notice too the good times, the good behavior, the moments when the siblings are doing something especially generous for each other. Praise those good moments and there will be good feelings all around.
It’s important to have set expectations for all family members when it comes to rules, responsibilities, expected behaviors, and consequences. Don’t make exceptions too often. Stick with the house rules as routinely as possible.
Carve out one-on-one time
Spend time each week with each child individually. Engage in some activity that your child particularly enjoys, go to a movie, grab a bite at a favorite diner, take a hike together – whatever allows you two to connect. These moments will be prime times for conversations that allow for the release of pent-up feelings, for the casual sharing of information, and most importantly, for connecting and showing your child that he is worth of your time and attention. This special parent/child time will help to reduce any jealousy about time you need to devote to their siblings, whether they have special needs or not.
But what if you try all of these things and you find that your child is still struggling, emotions are heightening or becoming more frequent? You might want to consider getting extra help from a school counselor, your child’s teacher, your child’s doctor, a sibling support group, your church’s youth minister or a therapist. All of those resources can help your child to explore their feelings and to develop healthy coping strategies.
Above all, remember that family dynamics can be a complicated thing, but that sibling rivalry is completely normal and every family deals with it at some point. I hope I’ve given you a few things to consider. Good luck!