Controlling Sibling Rivalry

WebMD Live Events Transcript

When brothers and sisters tease, bicker, and battle, Mom and Dad can be driven to tears. But according to Joshua Sparrow, MD, your children learn from each other and develop close, lifelong relationships. Find out how to defuse the fighting and help your children strengthen their bonds. Sparrow was our guest on May 26, 2005.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Sparrow. Thank you for joining us today.

SPARROW:
Thanks for inviting me.

MODERATOR:
Is sibling rivalry inevitable?

SPARROW:
It sure is. There are two sides to the sibling rivalry coin. On the one side is the intensely passionate fighting and bickering that every family of more than one child is familiar with. On the other side is the equally passionate caring each feels for the other and you really can't have one without the other.

MODERATOR:
When should we, as parents, start thinking about how we are going to handle sibling rivalry when it rears its ugly head?

SPARROW:
Well, inevitably you will, as a parent, have to start facing it, preparing for it and helping your child with it before the second child has even arrived.

In fact, your child, your oldest, may know you're pregnant before you do. In the book that Dr. Brazelton and I have written on sibling rivalry, there is a story about a 3-year-old who coughed and was examined by his pediatrician. The pediatrician had the intuition that the mother might be pregnant and she of course said "No, why would I be pregnant?" A week later she called to say she was pregnant. She asked, "How did you know, doctor?" He said, "I didn't know but your son did because he coughed whenever he bent over and grunted." He had already been picking up on these changes in his mother's behavior before she realized what they meant.

MODERATOR:
What is the best way to introduce your child to a new sibling?

SPARROW:
During pregnancy, before the baby has arrived.

Be ready for your older child's questions, no matter how young that child is. We always like to believe that children are blissfully ignorant of things that might be upsetting to them. But they usually surprise us by being aware of far more than we give them credit for, even if they can't understand these things in the ways that we do. So be prepared for his questions and listen for the questions underneath his questions while you're pregnant.

The older child is bound to worry about being displaced by the new child and bound to worry about being separated from you when you go to the hospital to give birth. He may also wonder why you had to go and have another one. Was it because he wasn't good enough for you? Why did you need another one?

Listen for these questions and reassure him about who will be there when you go off to the hospital. Hopefully you have extended family or friends who can commit to being available as soon as you have to go, so that there aren't any surprises for him. Let him know that he will always be special and can always be his parent's baby when he needs to be.

"In fact, you may intensify the jealousy beyond the necessary inevitable feeling if you try to get involved in changing the way the children feel about each other."

MODERATOR:
Do the difference in the ages of your children have an impact on sibling rivalry?