Parenting Vivian | 23 Jan 2010 07:19 pm

My Battle With Sibling Rivalry

When I brought Kaylee home from the hospital, Makani took to her right away just as she had done when Rowena was born. However, Rowena, my tender-hearted girl, wanted nothing to do with her new baby sister, and she wanted nothing to do with me either whenever I held Kaylee. It broke my heart.

Kaylee is now 2 years old, and Rowena is 4. It has taken me two years to figure out how to build a bond between those two girls. I learned a few tricks from books, and I corrected some of my own behaviors that fueled the division. Without my negative interference, they slowly built a bond between them. Now Rowena and Kaylee play very well together, and Kaylee finally has a friend.

1. Pay attention to your own words. What could you be doing to cause the problem?

I noticed that Rowena frequently got scolded when Kaylee was around. Rowena’s disenchantment with the new baby turned to dislike every time we admonished her for almost hurting the baby. I remember one day the two girls were playing hide and seek in the closet. Kaylee was 1, and Rowena was 3. Rowena kept sliding the closet doors open to peek out and me, and I would cringe as she almost hit Kaylee with the door several times. “Rowena, don’t do that,” I think I said. “You almost hit your sister.”

Rowena stopped playing and sat down on my lap, “I don’t want Kaylee here. Make her go away.” Oops, this reaction was my fault. She had played happily with Kaylee up until that point. Sure, I want Rowena to learn to be considerate of others and to be aware of the needs of others, but on the other hand, maybe instead I should teach Kaylee that she should watch out for swinging doors. Kaylee cannot be a baby forever. She needs to have the skills to take care of her own self too.

I replaced scolding Rowena with praise. “You are playing with your sister. I really like that,” I would say. “That is being very friendly.” Rowena’s face would light up with a big smile, and slowly she began to play more and more with Kaylee.

2. Give security by defining boundaries.

I noticed that Rowena would worry about her personal possessions. Kaylee often destroyed her sisters’ building block creations, and Rowena did not feel like she could trust Kaylee to know what belongs to whom. Rowena did not know whether Kaylee would give back her toys, and so Rowena just did not want to share. Hey, if I had a special gardening tool, I would not lend it out to someone who I thought would break it or not return it!

So we solved this problem by giving each girl her own room. We were lucky that we had 4 bedrooms. Makani and Rowena shared a room, and Kaylee (being on a different sleep schedule) had her own room. The fourth bedroom was a play room that all the girls shared. I really liked this arrangement because having a big play room segregated the mess from the rest of the house.

Although Kaylee still went to bed earlier, keeping her separate from her sisters seemed like a problem. Throughout the day, she was ostracized from their playtime, and we felt like it was time to unite the three. However, Rowena panicked to have Kaylee in the playroom, getting into their stuff, so we decided to separate Makani and Rowena so that each girl would have her own sanctuary.

Sure, I lost my wonderful playroom, but Rowena now gets more sleep and is less cranky. Makani gets to read late into the night, and Kaylee is no longer the third wheel. Furthermore, Rowena now keeps her toys behind a shut door, stopping many arguments before they even happen.

3. Recreate the situation with positive words.

The clincher was when Rowena realized that Kaylee liked her. Kaylee uses a shortened version of Makani’s name to mean “girl,” and she uses this name for every girl she sees. Kaylee has never called Rowena by name. I think this has bothered Rowena a little. Makani and Kaylee were becoming friends, and Rowena now felt like the third wheel. Makani would say, “I like Kaylee but not Rowena.” And this just worsened the situation.

Then a few weeks ago, something happened that changed this whole thing around. Rowena and Kaylee both go to the nursery now because our church does not have a class for 4-year olds. You either go with the big kids (ages 5-12) or with the little kids (ages 0 – 4). We didn’t like this very much, and so my husband snuck Rowena into the big kid class one day. Sure, Rowena is only 4, but she doesn’t run around, she can sit still, and she can do crafts like an older child.

Well, Kaylee did not want to go into the nursery without Rowena. Several other kids came up to play with her or give her hugs, and she would have nothing to do with them. “Kani?” she asked me. It was kind of like she was saying, “You’re not my sister. I am not playing with you. I want my sister.”

That afternoon, we told Rowena how Kaylee had asked for her and did not want to play with anyone else. Rowena’s face broke into the biggest smile I have ever seen, “Kaylee likes me.” In fact, she said that several times that day.

The next morning, Kaylee was grumpy, having been woken suddenly. While I changed Kaylee’s diaper, Rowena petted Kaylee’s head, but Kaylee, being grumpy, pushed Rowena away. Confused and hurt, Rowena asked me, “Does she like me?”

I answered with my usual question, “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Her little brow furrowed in concern.

“Yes, she likes you,” I said. “She is just grumpy because it is morning and she is awake.”

Rowena brightened once again and has not questioned whether or not Kaylee likes her since that morning. She happily takes Kaylee’s hand, and the two of them tromp off together to play. They now have sleepovers sometimes, and Rowena shares more willingly and freely. When Rowena is around, Kaylee does not seem to need as much personal attention from me, and I know Kaylee has really wanted a friend.

I am just so happy to see my two youngest finally find each other, but even more, I am thankful that I know longer have to deal with the she-put-her-foot-on-my-side-of-the-car complaint. Now the foot just gets kissed, and I hear much giggling and rejoicing.

Rita Webb is a homeschooling mom for three young children, aged two, four, and six. Rita researches many homeschooling resources and writes reviews on these materials in her blog

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