If your kids are constantly vying for your attention, here’s how to make sure they feel equally loved.
From Jan Brady wailing “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” to the Pearson kids on This Is Us arguing over which member of the Big Three mom loved the most, sibling rivalry is a fact of life in any family with more than one kid. After all, who hasn’t felt like the wronged child—the one who always gets the earlier bedtime or the smaller scoop of mac & cheese? And no matter how careful you are to make sure your kids feel equally loved, one of them will inevitably bust out, “Not fair, you always take her side!” You may not be able to turn your household into one big harmonious sing-along, but here are some ways to keep the squabbling to a controlled minimum.
Let them resolve their own fights.
If you take sides—especially if you weren’t there to see the whole dispute—someone will end of feeling misunderstood. Plus, kids learn more from working out their battles, says Julie Hanks, PhD, a family therapist in Salt Lake City, UT. “Look at this as a chance for them to gain valuable experience resolving conflict,” she says. Letting them work through the different stages of fighting and making up also teaches the important emotional lesson that a number of feelings toward others can coexist, including love and jealousy, says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a family therapist in Fairfield County, CT. (Of course, if someone is about to get smacked on the head with light saber, do intervene.)
Feel everyone’s pain.
The more you can empathize with everyone in the family, the less left out anyone will feel. This is especially true when siblings are at each other’s throats. Let’s say they insist on giving you the play-by-play of their blowup. You can acknowledge their emotions without choosing sides by telling each one, “I can see how that would be upsetting.” Or: “I can tell you’re both frustrated, but I know you two will work it out.”
Help each child shine in her or her own way.
When kids grow up in a house where everyone is encouraged to develop their own unique talents, they’re less likely to compare themselves to siblings—so don’t nudge Susie into playing soccer just because it will be easier than coordinating her hip-hop dance and flute lessons with her sister’s practice schedule. “You can help kids build self-esteem by getting them involved in activities where they feel happy and accomplished,” says Greenberg.
Carve out one-on-one time.
In a large family, a child may feel lost in the crowd. That’s why Greenberg suggests having rituals you do one-on-one. It might be a regular outing (like a Saturday lunch after robotics class with Dad or a monthly mani-pedi trip with mom), or something simpler, such as a cup of tea together after school or a weekly trip to the library.
Aim for awesome.
No need to waste energy trying to prevent spats; instead, focus on building compassion and pride in each another, says Greenberg. That may sound like a gargantuan order, but it is possible. Every time you model empathy you show your kids how it’s done. Talking to one child about his sibling’s feelings may tame anger and jealousy, says Greenberg. You might even throw out a compliment-for-two, like, “Oliver has come a long way with the cello. Thanks for helping him!”