How to Raise Happy Siblings?
September 12, 2009 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Looking for parenting advice/resources for raising children who are close in age. Sibling rivalry has begun to enter the picture, and we want to learn how best to cope with it and limit it as much as possible.

We have two boys, ages 13 months & 27 months. They love each other and have coexisted very harmoniously thus far, but just in the last week or so we've noticed some jockeying for position, crying, and acting out from each of them when they feel the other is getting more attention, particularly when there is only one of us taking care of them. We know this is normal, but we are looking for the best way to cope, moving forward. Our goal is to make sure they grow up knowing that our love & attention isn't a finite resource to be competed for, even though there will have to be times when there is only one pair of arms available to pick one of them up. Any book recommendations, websites, or advice from those who have been there would be much appreciated!
posted by gimli to Human Relations (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
my parents used raising self-reliant children in a self-indulgent world. it doesn't directly speak to sibling rivalry, but rather, a whole approach at relating to your children. i think it, in turn, helped us not feel so needy on our parents.
posted by nadawi at 8:51 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My kids are a little further apart. It is pretty tricky when they're both very little but as they get older it gets...different. Not easier, but different.

I don't think what you're experiencing is the same as real sibling rivalry, it's just survival instinct. They don't know what's really going on when they're hurt/stressed/hungry or whatever, just that they are and that you're the Dude or Lady who makes it all happen.

I did a lot of narration when my girls were that age, a running patter of what was happening now and what was going to happen next, so they would know that if I was doing for one, the next step was that I would do for the other.

It should be noted that while there may only be one pair of arms available, the fact that there's a pair of arms means one parent can always snuggle two little bodies. If you have to "abandon" one toddler in favor of another for a moment, finishing it all up with a group snug is a good way to remind them that you're all in it together.

I've read a gazillion books and blogs and whatnot but honestly the most helpful thing for me has been paying close attention to my kids, who they are and what their personalities are. They're 6 and 5 now, they have some really distinctly different ways of being, and knowing how to meet each of them where they live is exactly what I need to do. I do occasionally approach issues I have with them as "sibling" issues, but most often I'm successful if I approach them as "M's issue" and "D's issue". Doing so also helps them learn about one another, and the fact that my husband sometimes has a totally different approach to problems honestly ends up being more helpful than you might think.
posted by padraigin at 9:18 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm 2.5 years older than my sister, and yes, sibling rivalry happens!

The best thing my parents did was recognize that we were different individuals with different needs and tried to let us know this. Obviously it is hard for such young kids, but eventually it sinks in.

Often you feel like you are offending both by being egalitarian! Maybe make some "special time" for each boy to spend with the parent, maybe 1/2 an hour, but make sure it's undivided attention. Also make sure to do cool stuff with them together, but the individual time is special, and helps each feel they are loved. Work out how each boy receives love best (5 love languages book) words of affirmation, physical touch (hugs, etc), gifts, quality time, acts of service. and make an effort to help each boy feel loved. I know you love them, but help them to feel it and feel secure in it.

And sometimes, kids are just snotty with each other. You might just have to tell them "mommy/daddy is talking to/washing/feeding your brother right now. I will talk to you in a minute."
posted by titanium_geek at 9:19 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a twin brother, and we definitely had (and still do) a lot of sibling rivalry. Something I'd recommend is to see if you can get them interested in different things. Maybe have one play soccer and play football. Have one play cello and one play violin. Obviously don't force them into stuff they don't want to do, but if they have slightly different interests the rivalry won't be as intense, and you might avoid some of the, "I'm better than you at this!" moments.

(on preview, this advice may not be exactly what you're looking for, but hopefully it could be helpful sometime in the future).
posted by kylej at 9:38 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have three children a total of 30 months apart. The two boys are 13 months apart. They are now teens. I have no book recommendation but I can tell you that there will always be competition, but you sound like you are trying to impart the right attitude in that love is not finite. I think the most important thing my wife and I learned was not to be dragged into their self created situations that force us to choose. We stay out of most of their fights. They need to learn to work it out together and work together. At times it is a struggle. Although my two boys compete the most, my daughter will often compete with one of them as well. She is the oldest by 16.5 months. For the most part, we have found that any two of them get along better than when all three are competing. I would advise having an even number of kids so that they can pair off and one is not left out. I caution that it will not ever go away. The issues just change. Watch three close in age kids argue about who gets the middle on a 4 hour car ride. Hilarity does not ensue. Blood might.

As they got older, their individual talents have come out. The older boy is a terrific athlete. The younger would love to be but alas he is very average. We celebrate different accomplishments. We taught them (or continue to try) that we do not care so much about outcomes as much as about effort. We want them all to maximize their potential regardless if that is an "A" or "C".

My advise is to not contribute to the rivalry by comparing them. ever. DOn't tell one to look at how well the other ties his shoes and why can't he do it like his brother. They are different. COmparisons will teach them to compete with each other, not against themselves.

I think the biggest lesson we taught our children which has helped the sibling rivalry is that "fair" does not mean the same. We can treat them differently but fairly. They each have different personalities and those personalities have different needs. One may need a pat on the back while the other a kick in the ass. Material items as well are not all the same. They know we will get them all the essentials like shirts, shoes, jeans, hats, gloves, etc. But one son may get a hand me down that year and the other a new jacket. Managing their expectations to know that no matter what we love them and support them yet they will not all be the same. At the age your boys are, getting toys and even play time was not the same. One son one year was fascinated with naval ships. The other with football. For the holidays we got the younger one who loved the ships a huge really nice model destroyer. (He still has it 10 years later.) The other got a football and a tee. THe disparity in dollar value was almost two to one and they sensed it, but they were both treated fairly as they got what they wanted.

The last thing we emphasized to them is that they are all in this together whether they like it or not, so why not make the best of it. I think they get that. At school they are not always hanging out, but they do come to each other's rescue in a pinch. I love (and hate) when I see them working together to overcome parental opposition to something. To have my daughter argue to let the boys have a paintball gun because she made some back room deal where they will support her right to not have to go to some family gathering is great. It means they get working together and being siblings.

Repeating and a little stream of consciousness, try to let them work it out. Do not get involved in trying to referee every battle. You will be the loser not them. Manage expectations.

Good luck. Memail with specific questions if you want.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:38 PM on September 12, 2009 [7 favorites]

Absolute best book on this topic: Siblings Without Rivalry. Seriously, order it now with next day delivery.

The same authors (Faber & Mazlich) also wrote my favorite parenting book. It may not be absolute best but it is my personal favorite. I re-read it every 2-3 years - each time my kids started to really drive me crazy - and it would remind me of the skills and concepts I had forgotten. It is How to talk so kids will listen, How to listen so kids will talk. Do not be mislead by the title - it will teach you a style of firm but respectful parenting that lets you balance love and respect with limits and discipline without feeling guilty. This one is particularly easy to find cheap used copies - it has been around for years.

Both books include cartoons, reminder lists you can post on refrigerator and sample problems - each idea gets taught three or four different ways so it is bound to sink in by the end of the chapter.
posted by metahawk at 10:01 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the book Siblings without Rivalry.

Are you talking about your boys competing with each other, or fighting? I think the fighting is somewhat inevitable for any two kids hanging out together. But my boys (who are two years about) play together all the time. This has been the best part of having two kids. They entertain each other endlessly. They do have different interests, and we try to encourage them to do whatever is interesting to them.

And we also encourage them to work things out between themselves and not to referee their arguments. Your two are a bit young for this yet, but I try very hard not to get involved in my kids' fights.

Anyway, that book was very helpful. So you might try that.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:13 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My sister is two years older than me, and we have a wonderful relationship (we moved as adults to be 1/2 mile away from one another and spend all kinds of time together -- we're going apple-picking with our children later this morning, in fact!).

One thing my parents did to foster a good sibling relationship was to make it a positive thing that we could take steps toward, not just a collection of negative things that we had to avoid. They encouraged my sister to think of me as "her baby," even though she was a baby herself; she'd push my stroller, they'd encourage her to hug me when I was crying, etc. We were taught to do for one another, not just discouraged from fighting. And then it matured into something really nice: for example, as teenagers, if my sister had a chore to do that she couldn't leave the house before doing, but her friends just invited her out, I would volunteer to do her chore for her; and vice versa.

I think kids respond a lot better to "do" than to "don't." So fostering active expressions of affection and mutual support, then praising them effusively, is likely to be a lot more effective than scolding and discouraging them when they're not nice to one another.

I have children about a year and a half apart -- they're 15 months and soon-to-be-three right now -- and this has worked well with them so far, too. My son runs to her when she's crying, he tells other children she's "his" baby, he's very affectionate with her, and she worships him.
posted by palliser at 5:55 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently found out that my younger brother (by 13 months) used to hear "Why can't you be more like your sister?" from our parents, and really REALLY resented it. Otherwise, our parents tended to treat us both pretty equally (he agrees) and we're best friends now. So, yeah, try not to compare them (especially to their faces), but even if you do say inappropriate things like that occasionally, if your efforts overall are pretty egalitarian, you'll be doing ok.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:37 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This has been extremely helpful! Thanks to each and every one of you for taking the time to share your thoughts & experiences, and for the great book recommendations. I think I've been agonizing too much over how to react to specific instances, rather than focusing on a consistent overall philosophy.
posted by gimli at 8:56 AM on September 13, 2009

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