In the latest SockKids book, The SockKids Go Dancing, Wooly the middle sock, is kind of jealous of his big brother Stretch. Stretch is a tube sock, so he’s always out and about, helping the humans play games. Wooly is a dress sock, so he doesn’t get out much, and when he does, the human boy takes him off as soon as possible and throws Wooly under the bed.
If you have more than one child (or if you grew up in a family with a lot of kids, as I did), you’re more than familiar with sibling rivalry. Did one kid get a slightly larger slice of cake than another? You’ll hear about it. Does Child B’s bedtime match Child A’s bedtime at that age? No? Oh, the horror! What you might not always hear are the feelings of being second-best to an older sibling. Here are a few suggestions to help keep sibling rivalry at bay.
1) Don’t compare one kid to the other. Just don’t. Child A will lord it over Child B for the next year (or vice versa). When they ask “How old was I when… How old was so-and-so when…” use it as a teachable moment to talk about skills each of them have. For instance, Child A may have learned to ride a bike at a younger age,, but maybe Child B learned to tie shoes at a younger age. You can talk about gross motor skills and fine motor skills and how different people develop those skills at different rates. You can use yourself and other adults in the children’s life as examples, for instance, “Mommy is a faster runner but Uncle Mike is better at art.”
2) Teach them empathy and how to be happy for others. Learning to be happy for your brother because he knocked in three RBIs or for your sister because she won all of her events at her swim meet doesn’t just add to family harmony, it’s one of those infamous life lessons. Realizing that a sibling or friend’s accomplishments don’t diminish our own accomplishments is something that carries on far past childhood.
3) Make sure the younger kid(s) get something new once in a while. Every parent wants to economize, and, more often than not, kids outgrow clothes long before the clothes become unwearable. I grew up as the youngest of six children, so I have more than a passing familiarity with hand-me-downs. But everybody, young and old, wants to feel special once in a while. Every kid deserves to have some things that weren’t worn or used by an older sibling.
4) Sibling rivalry goes both ways, so try to give the older kids a break too. Older kids are bigger and stronger than little kids. They have more stamina, more patience, and more maturity. Don’t always aim to the youngest common denominator. Make sure family outings and family time includes things that are interesting and challenging to the big ones too. Sometimes you need to divide and conquer–one parent takes the younger kid(s) and the other takes the older kid(s). If you’re a single parent, try to enlist a friend to go on a family outing. Or let the kids take turns choosing activities.
5) Read as many SockKids books with your family as you can! Seriously, reading books together is a great way to spend time together and spark some meaningful conversation.
6) Love them unconditionally.