When it comes to dealing with sibling rivalry, it can be hard not to take sides. That’s particularly true when we believe our oldest is treating a younger sibling unfairly (or worse).
But, says Cleveland parenting coach, Amy Speidel, that’s a mistake.
“Protection is really about recognizing that somebody seems to have a powerful hand,” Speidel explains. “But, it’s important to remember that the person who looks like they have the powerful hand isn’t always the person who is feeling powerful.”
In fact, in this sibling rivalry scenario, the victim is often more powerful because she has a team on her side. “I’ve got my parents on my team, and you’ve got no one on your team,” Speidel says.
Your intervention can leave the aggressor feeling powerless because, in effect, he’s been kicked off your team.
“By joining forces with the child who seems weak, you end up creating a bigger imbalance for your other child, who’s now on a team by himself,” Speidel adds. “Now you’ve created teams in your family.”
What to do?
3 Steps for Handling Sibling Rivalry:
1. Start by trying to understand your older child’s agitation.
Chances are, she’s responding to changes in her sibling, especially if that sibling is entering adolescence. It may be that a younger sibling, who once agreed with everything his older brother said and did, now has his own ideas. Or, your older child may feel peeved as a younger sibling receives privileges he had to wait for (which happens, right?). These dynamics can exacerbate sibling rivalry during the adolescent years.
2. Talk about it, but don’t demonize.
“You can say, ‘It seems to me that these things are coming up more and more, and perhaps it would be helpful for you to understand that something is changing in your relationship with your sister (or brother). Your brother is growing up and that must be challenging for you because you liked it the way it was, when it worked better for you.”
There are numerous other reasons for an older child to be upset with a younger sibling’s changing status. It helps for him to voice these feelings. But, again, be wary of kicking your oldest child off the family team. “I hear a lot from parents that an older child is coming in as an agitator and needling the other child until that other child has a meltdown. And our inclination is to come in and say, ‘All he wants is to look up to you and have him be your friend and then you treat him like that.’ In that dynamic, we are sainting one child and demonizing the other,” Speidel says, adding that parents should instead make it a family matter.
3. Take a break if necessary.
“It doesn’t sound like the way you are responding is how our family is. So, take a break and come back and be the person that you know how to be and that honors our family.”