How to Prevent and Deal with Toddler Sibling Rivalry

Since the time of Cain and Abel, parents have had to struggle with sibling rivalry.

In the not-to-distant past, parents have had to rely on their common sense and familial patterns of behavior to cope. Today, we are the beneficiaries of the information age and all those experts. Yet it still comes down, for the most part, to common sense.

As the parent, you know your own child the best, and your own family style of discipline. Yet there are some strategies that, though simple, can make all the difference between a loving sibling relationship and a lifetime of splitting and sibling struggle.

Strategies for preventing toddler sibling rivalry have the greatest opportunity for success, as they get the entire family off to a good start.

Strategy 1

Prepare your child for the birth of the new baby. Remember that your toddler didn’t ask for a new brother or sister – in fact he had no choice in the matter. So the best thing that you can do to affect a comfort zone for this child is to make him an ally. Include him in all preparations such as shopping for the new baby, asking his opinion in the selection process.

Furthermore, tell him the sex of the newborn ahead of time if you know it; involve him in the selection of the new baby’s name, as well as all other planning activities, so that he feels in the loop. This invests your toddler in the process and will make him feel a part of things. Then he is more likely to feel secure and, therefore, be accepting of the new baby.

Strategy 2  

Bring a gift home for your toddler from the new baby when your new baby arrives home. This makes him feel special and connected to the baby and the family unit.

Strategy 3

Never leave your toddler alone with your newborn. This is a prescription for trouble. Toddlers have no understanding for abstractions, and he can easily take his frustration out on the newborn without understanding the consequences.

Strategy 4

Reassure your child that he is loved and that there is a place for him in the family. Displacement is a common feeling for siblings and can be avoided by one-on-one time with mom and dad.

Strategy 5

Don’t make your toddler give up his room for the new baby. No matter how you explain it, he will feel less then, and rightfully so. Moreover, do not make one sibling share his or her toys with the other. This takes away the newly found sense of control that children experience as they strike out towards self mastery and independence.

Strategy 6

Remind your child of his place in the family. Show him family pictures that include him, as well as notes and cards saved from his birth. Children love to hear the story of their lives and bedtime is a perfect time for a cuddle and a real life bedtime story.

Strategy 7

Reward your toddler for being the big brother by extending his bedtime ten minutes. This and other added privileges give the sibling the feeling that it is good to grow up, and that there are concrete benefits to do so.

Strategy 8

Don’t give the older child any added responsibilities associated with the new baby. This baby was not his idea and should not in anyway become his burden.

Strategy 9

Never make one child the babysitter for the other. Your child will learn to quickly resent the newborn if he is made to feel responsible for the baby.

Strategy 10

Space your children, if possible. Three years is good spacing as one child is ready to get off your knee just as a newborn goes on it.

Strategy 11

Be fair. Your child will look at you with a critical eye and already suspect that you might love the new baby more. As a result, it is important that you are evenhanded in all things including not always putting the baby’s wants and needs ahead of their older sibling.

Your toddler’s feelings are very tender in this period of adjustment and it is the wise parent who stays connected to his sensitivities and never compares one child with another.

Strategy 12
Finally, while the entire family is in transition, it is important to communicate, and the best way to communicate is to listen.

Create a time and a quiet place to have a family conversation at least once a week where you can all take turns as a family talking about your feelings in an empathic way. This will help you to check in on your toddler and see how he is doing…and most importantly how he is feeling.

This empathic process should take place in a neutral space, such as a kitchen. And, it requires that each family member listens intently to each other without defense or discounting feelings, while investing each other in the options for problem solving. This is how we make a family that is collaborative, not competitive – and whole, rather than split.