1) Allow feelings
Remember that feelings are acceptable but behaviour is often not. Try and look underneath the behaviour to what the primary emotion is. Children often have ambivalent feelings that they cannot put into words what they are feeling.
E.g. Older sibling loves his/her younger sibling and was excited for her to come into the world/family but also feels angry with the sibling for taking away parental attention. The older sibling hits the younger sibling.
Parental response: I can see you feel confused about “younger sibling,” but he/she is not for hitting just because you feel angry with him/her.
2) Avoid Comparisons
Sometimes it is very difficult to avoid comparing siblings e.g. “Look how beautifully your sister is sitting!” or “Why can’t you clean up your room like your brother?” I think many parents believe that comparing children will motivate them to achieve more, however it usually does exactly the opposite.
A child then often builds up feelings of resentment and feels like he/she is not good enough, or nothing he/she does is good enough. Instead of comparing siblings – merely set the boundaries with the child. For example, “I need you to sit quietly and to stop fidgeting” or “Please clean up your room before lunch.” (Leave out the reference to the sibling, or how well the other sibling is doing it).
3) Avoid Roles
Try not to assign roles to children in the family e.g. “She is my little musician”, or “He is the athlete in the family”, or “She is the academic one.” Often children will try to live up to these roles and get very disappointed when they cannot perform well etc.
Even very challenging children have a good side, and it is important not to cast them in the role of the ‘bad one’ because this is how they will see themselves and behave accordingly. They may also have a great deal of anger towards the ‘good child.’
4) Avoid Favouritism
It is important to not show favouritism in the family – and to explain that you love siblings the same amount but in different ways. For example, you may compare one sibling to being a square, and another sibling to being a triangle… they are both the same size… and they both fit into your heart… but that they are different and that you love them for different things (You can specify these things to them too).
5) Avoid Subjective Reaction
It is very important to respond firmly and calmly to behaviour (and not to over-react, use names/labels or compare siblings).
You need to state the rule firmly, for example: “The rule is that we don’t hurt people.”
Coping with negative sibling behaviour:
- Do not make it your problem if it need not be
- Remain focused on the problem behaviour
- Maintain objectivity
- Ensure that the rule-breaker takes the consequences for choosing to break the rule (e.g. thinking chair)
- Use the incident as a focus for problem solving