The simplest and most effective way to promote harmony among
your children? Model peaceful problem-solving and teamwork in your
own relationships. Show them how it's done. They're watching.
Your second child is on the way and friends and family say, "Oh,
how wonderful! Little Suzy will make a great big sister. They'll
have each other to grow up with and will each have a built-in best
Sounds great in theory, but how we nurture-or unwittingly
discourage-their bond can have a tremendous impact on whether or
not that bond lasts and sustains them long after they have grown
Believe it or not, there are some practical things you can do to
begin fostering good rapport among
your children-and to nip sibling rivalry and jealousy in the
bud-before your second child is even born. Include your oldest in
some of the planning and give her important jobs to do once her
sibling arrives, like singing to him and fetching his diapers.
Then, make sure each child gets regular alone time with you, even
if it's just for your weekly trip to the grocery store. One-on-one
time doesn't have to be an "event," by the way. Your child will
feel important and needed, simply by your letting her pick the
As they grow, resist the urge to compare your kids to each
other. Remember how much you hated it when your parents said, "Why
can't you just be more like your sister and ('make your bed' or 'do
your homework')?" Your kids hate it, too, and not just the one not
making the grade. Your children are individuals, with different
motivations and needs.
But sometimes the comparisons that drive a wedge are more
subtle. "Look how nicely Suzy points her toes (in ballet class),"
for example. Your impulse might be pure and your intention to
simply teach, but your child likely hears, "You're not as skilled
as your sister," and feels inadequate as a result. Opt, instead,
for offering gentle feedback and encouragement, and do it when
siblings are out of earshot.
No matter what we do, even the warmest of sibling bonds can grow
cool from time to time. When this happens, acknowledge your child's
frustration with her brother or sister. Sometimes mere
listening-done without always trying to talk her out of her
feelings or defending her sibling-can work wonders.
When they do disagree, pick your battles. You don't have to
referee all of their conflicts. Let them work things out for
themselves, unless things get ugly. If the conflict is over a toy
(or computer, television, etc.), calmly explain that you'll give
them an opportunity (time-limited) to negotiate a solution. If they
cannot collaborate productively, the object of their conflict will
go into time-out until they can. You'll be amazed at how well this
one works in promoting peace and harmony in your home. "Like
magic!" I've heard parents say.
Also, create other no-fail opportunities for teamwork among your
children. They can volunteer at a food shelter together, spend an
afternoon tackling a trust-building ropes course or simply play on
the same team (even if it's just the one in your backyard). The
idea is that they'll develop a shared history of good times-and of
having each other's back, not just using them for target
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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