Sibling Jealousy: How To Handle It Without Losing Your Mind - Baby Chick
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Sibling Jealousy: How To Handle It Without Losing Your Mind

Learn what can cause sibling rivalry, strategies to deal with sibling jealousy, and skills you can teach your kids to decrease rivalry.

Updated May 1, 2024

by Maria Yakimchuk

Certified Transformational EFT Coach

Additional contribution by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

You just brought your squishy little newborn home and can’t wait to introduce them to their older sibling. You are full of anticipation and excitement about how cute this moment will be, only to be disappointed by your child not paying attention to the new bundle of joy — or even saying something mean. Or maybe nothing out of the ordinary happens after you bring the baby home, but in a few short weeks, your previously well-behaved child starts regressing, acting aggressive and mean toward the baby. They want to be babied themselves, being super clingy and having tantrums left and right. All this may be incredibly upsetting for you, but let me assure you, it’s all normal. And it might indicate that your older child is experiencing sibling jealousy!1

What Is Sibling Jealousy?

Sibling jealousy is a tale as old as time. And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Put yourself in your eldest’s shoes for a second — here they are, ruler of the castle. They get Mommy and Daddy’s undivided attention. They don’t have to share toys, living spaces, food, or the TV remote. Everything is set up to accommodate them and their needs. Then, all of a sudden, Mommy and Daddy bring this new creature into the house. Now, they have to share the resources (time, attention, and toys), which can create a level of animosity.9 Much of their parents’ attention is directed at this new screaming creature. That is so rough to experience.

What Causes Sibling Rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is thought to arise from birth order, the total number of siblings in a family, how stretched resources are, favoritism, or differences in parenting.2 Each child’s natural temperament or personality will influence how similar or different they are and how they deal with conflict.3 Other things that can influence sibling rivalry include:4

  • Major life events: Having a new sibling might result in other life changes, such as starting childcare, moving houses (to accommodate a new family member), etc. Simply welcoming a new sibling can be a source of stress for parents, which can impact kids.
  • Their developmental stage: The age of the child when their sibling is born will impact how much they understand what’s happening and how capable they are of managing their big feelings.
  • How big the age gap is: If children are close in age, there may be more competition, as they have similar needs and capacities. As a result, they can end up in conflict.
  • Lack of conflict resolution skills: This may be influenced by a child’s natural temperament and how they see conflict managed within the family home.

Depending on the child’s age, they will show sibling jealousy differently. With children and teenagers, you can expect more verbal attacks or them pretending not to care. They may also engage in dangerous behavior to attract attention to themselves. Meanwhile, it’s common for toddlers and younger children to experience all sorts of regressions in behavior, including aggression toward the baby and parents.5 There may be:

  • Whining
  • Yelling
  • Screaming
  • Throwing
  • Issues with going to and staying asleep
  • Problems with going to school
  • Issues with friends
  • Potty training issues

How To Deal With Sibling Jealousy

Although it may be normal for children to experience sibling rivalry, you can still support them through it to minimize the impact (on both children and the wider family). Once children learn to work through their differences in a healthy way, it can create an even stronger bond!5 Here are some strategies to help older siblings cope with jealousy associated with having a new baby brother or sister:

Prepare Your Child Before Baby’s Arrival

While a child may see their mama’s changing body, they might not necessarily understand what’s happening. So, it’s essential to sit down with your child and explain what’s happening or the impact a new arrival will have on the family.6 Don’t expect your child to fully understand what you’re telling them until they’re roughly the age of 3. My sons are two and a half years apart, and while I spent a great deal preparing my eldest for his brother’s arrival, things didn’t truly click until he saw his baby brother lying in his bassinet.

Regardless of age, it’s still an excellent idea to talk to your child as much as possible about the upcoming addition to the family. Read books about becoming a big brother or sister. If you’re an older sibling, talk to them about your experience of becoming one. Try not to dwell on the negatives, but don’t be afraid to acknowledge any resentful or negative feelings you may have. Make the story an empathetic and real one. It’s validating for your child to know they are not the only ones with these negative emotions.

Prepare Your Living Space

This is very important when your children have a small age gap between them. Never underestimate your toddler’s strong feelings. It is not uncommon for your toddler to hurt their baby sibling and be aggressive toward them. That’s really the only way they know how to express their negative feelings.4,5 So, ensure you have eyes on the baby at all times.

Baby gates, playpens, and other barriers are great ways to ensure your toddler cannot hurt the baby. Also, don’t leave your toddler unattended with the baby, even for a short period. Sometimes, even well-meaning toddlers can accidentally harm the baby.

Build Positive Associations With Their Baby Sibling

While your child may express jealousy in many ways, be prepared for it, no matter how it shows up. You know this jealousy won’t ever truly disappear, but if you create a positive relationship between the siblings, the jealousy will not be at the forefront of their relationship.7

Involve your elder child in caring for the baby, playing with them, and spending time with the baby nearby. Make it fun and pleasant. As the baby grows and becomes more able to participate, their older sibling will be more welcoming and ready to include them in their world.

While your elder child may not always be kind or act positively toward their younger sibling, do your best to keep the scolding to a minimum. Yes, it’s very tempting to yell at or chastise your child for misbehaving, but it won’t lead to anything positive in the long term. Instead, acknowledge their feelings, explain that what they did is not a good action, and show them a better way to behave. Build their empathy quotient toward their sibling, not resentment.

Try Not To Pick Sides Between Siblings

While things may be super one-sided when the youngest sibling is a baby, things become a bit murkier once they become a walking, talking, hitting, and snatching toddler. In the younger years, it will often look like this: You are busy doing something, the kids are playing alone, the youngest cries, and you witness the eldest hitting or snatching toys away from the youngest. Your immediate reaction will probably be to scold the eldest for their poor behavior, take things away from them, and send them into time out. Try to avoid favoritism or taking sides.8

While it may be true that your eldest child could not control themselves and acted out of frustration and anger, it may very well be that the youngest provoked them. They could have snatched the toy from them first or moved a toy the eldest carefully arranged. Any number of things could have happened that you didn’t see. So, flying in and blindly picking sides is never a good idea.

Instead, console the sibling in more distress and ask what happened. After you listen, validate your children’s feelings and propose a solution that would be mutually agreeable. Don’t always side with the youngest while keeping the eldest accountable for everything. As they get older, the younger sibling will use this power dynamic to their advantage, and the sibling relationship will sour—and you don’t want that!

Important Skills To Teach

It’s not only important to ensure you don’t treat your children differently or play favorites, but there are also specific skills or strategies to teach them that can help decrease sibling rivalry:9

Conflict Resolution Skills

Instead of intervening, try to help your children learn how to manage conflict. Teach them how to communicate respectfully and problem-solve to handle challenges or jealousy. This can include showing them how to find fair and agreeable solutions for both sides.

Sharing Is Caring

It’s important to give children the opportunity to practice sharing and turn-taking. You might get a timer and give them equal time to play with the same toy. Don’t allow snatching, and potentially set a boundary that toys will be taken away or removed (temporarily) if they cannot share or play appropriately.

Managing Big Feelings

It’s perfectly okay if your child feels jealous or upset because they have a new sibling. However, teaching them how to manage these feelings in healthy and adaptive ways is still important. They need to learn how to name their feelings, and you can model this by using your words and teaching them about different emotions. You could even name the feelings you see them expressing. Managing their emotions can include calm breathing, yoga, blowing bubbles, having a hug, talking it out, etc.

Treat Your Children as Worthy Individuals

Lastly, I want to remind you to treat your children as worthy individuals. Don’t compare them to each other. Don’t create situations where sibling jealousy and rivalry are bound to occur. Remember that each sibling has strengths, weaknesses, interests, passions, and talents. Allow them to grow and develop themselves.

Treat them fairly and equitably. Spend time individually with each of them. Don’t make one of the siblings more important than the other. Foster their love and appreciation for each other, and you won’t always have to battle sibling jealousy.

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Maria Yakimchuk
Maria Yakimchuk Certified Transformational EFT Coach
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Maria is a Certified Transformational EFT Coach who helps moms struggling to find joy and fulfillment in motherhood and clear past traumas and emotional blocks so they can live in… Read more

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