When I had baby #2, I heard a lot from people about how to protect my firstborn from feeling abandoned. However, when my newborn turned herself into a toddler, I found myself wishing for more nuggets of wisdom to keep the conflict at a minimum. I may have learned the hard way, but I did learn a lot.
Here are my top five tips on keeping the peace -- and even making it fun -- between your (often messy, clumsy, destructive and loud) toddler and their older sibling.
1. Let them team up together. I discovered that when I initiated and then participated in a little play with them (like a game of "The Troll vs. the Bunnies" -- guess who was the Troll?), my kids discovered how fun it was to join forces in play.
2. Make sure they receive equal gifts. Examine any packages that come in the mail addressed to both kids before the parcel is handed over. Many well-meaning grandparents don't always send equal amounts of loot -- probably forgetting that the youngest kid is ever growing (along with their memory and desire for cool stuff). With my kids, my baby began to notice inconsistencies before she was 2. The first time I heard the words "what about me?" was truly heartbreaking. By the fifth or sixth time, I wanted revenge for my toddler.
3. Don't dress them alike. Unless they ask to be twinned-out, don’t force your kids to dress the same. In fact, celebrate their differences. If they’re not competing in the same categories, they are less likely to fight tooth and nail. If, however, they insist on a contest, be sure to have winners for each heat. “First Place in Toddlers goes to Daphne and The Winner in the Four Year Old division is Oona!”.
4. Be ready to fix things. It sucks when someone breaks your favorite stuff. Truth is, however, every toddler has boundary problems, and if you share a room with one, there's going to be casualties. I found that a little empathy (and a few extra prizes here and there to ease the sting of destroyed goods) has gone a long way to keep my older child from despising her little sister. Now, when something gets demolished, my older daughter and I share a look that says something like: “Oh, babies. What are you gonna do?” and then figure out how to make it better.
5. Make time to be alone with each of them ... even if it’s just a trip to the market or a walk to the mailbox. Sometimes, during extended one-on-one time, I’ll bring up the absent sibling in conversation and talk about what’s great about them. I’ve often heard my older daughter describing the many virtues of her little sister in terms taken directly from our little talks. I think it’s sinking in!
What do you do to ease sibling rivalry?