Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sue Scheff: Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry

“She got a really ugly look on her face and came back and said ‘you do not love me as much as you love Luke.’”

– Beth Scussel, talking about her 5-year-old daughter’s reaction to new baby

Over a million children in America will experience a change in status this year: they will no longer be an “only child” because their family is about to have a second child. And becoming a brother or a sister brings with it some challenges.

“She has been the princess for five years,” says Beth Scussel of her 5-year-old daughter Sara. “She has been all we do basically, just the center of our world.”

But Sara, who was an only child, had her world turned upside down this year, when Luke was born.

“She got a really ugly look on her face,” says Beth, “and (she) came back and said ‘you do not love me as much as you love Luke’.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.3 million children will no longer be an “only” child. They will get a new baby brother or sister and some will need a little help.

They no longer have the full, undivided attention of their mom and dad and they don’t really know how to explain how that feels.

“Parents have to verbalize that for the child and say ‘you must be feeling angry now because mommy has to have her attention on the baby.’ And putting those words in the child’s mouth so the child understands,” says pediatrician Dr. Karen Dewling.

Experts say older siblings often feel ignored, and worry that they’ve just been replaced. One solution is to let the older child help care for the new baby.

“Letting the sibling know that you need help to get through the situation, help this little one grow, they will feel responsible in some way and will usually help make the integration of the family much easier,” says psychiatrist Dr. Vincent Ho.

Sara has begun to catch on. “I help change the diaper,” she says, “I help him get his (pacifier).”

Her mom, Beth, adds, “I think she’s getting better. She really does adore him. She wants to help.”

Tips for Parents

The arrival of a new baby is a joyous time for families. But for older children, it can also be a time of confusion, frustration and jealousy. According to the Center for Effective Parenting, older children’s routines are often disturbed, they realize their parents no longer have as much time for them as they used to, and they notice that the new baby gets a lot of attention from both parents.

But there are ways to prepare children for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister that will help to minimize the sibling rivalry and jealousy. The Center for Effective Parenting recommends that expectant parents:

■Tell older children about the pregnancy. When? When the pregnancy begins to show.
■Tell children what to expect. Explain that caring for a new baby takes a lot of time, but doesn’t mean the older child is loved any less.
■Include children in what is going on. Let them take part in preparations for the new child.
■Make arrangements so that the arrival of the new baby changes older children’s lives as little as possible.

Once the baby is born:

■Encourage older children to help with the baby.
■Spend time alone with the older children.
■Be patient, understanding and supportive. They need to be shown and told that they are still loved very much.
Despite the best efforts of parents to avoid it, rivalry between siblings is likely to occur in a family. Why? The National Network for Child Care (NNCC) says there are a number of reasons why kids “quarrel, fight and tease”:

■Boredom, hunger, fatigue
■Seeking attention, companionship
■Developing their own sense of power
The NNCC has suggestions for what parents can do to minimize sibling rivalry:

■Ignore mild quarrels (only if no one is in danger of getting hurt).
■Spend time with each child. Studies show that 15 to 20 minutes of one-to-one attention with a child each day will significantly reduce whining and aggressive behavior.
■Teach children to ask for attention in a positive way. (“When you need a hug, let me know.”)
■Make each child feel uniquely special.
Sometimes parents ignore, deny or overlook cruel behavior between their children. But sibling violence, or “sibling abuse” is more common than violence between parents and children, or spousal abuse, according to the NNCC. The abuse can be physical, emotional or sexual.

How to tell when sibling rivalry may have gone too far? Here are some telltale signs to look for in children (from the NNCC):

■Protecting themselves
■Screaming and crying
■Constantly avoiding a sibling
■Abusing a younger sibling in turn
■Acting out an emotionally abusive message
■Telling parents
■Fighting back

If you are having trouble with sibling abuse in your family, you may also want to consider seeking professional help.


■Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
■Center For Effective Parenting
■National Network for Child Care

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