How to deal with sibling rivalry

Toota asks: I have a 3-year-old daughter and she is very intelligent. Now I have a new baby and my older daughter is very angry with me, she tells me “I do not love you,” she hits her little sister. Is this depression? What shall I do?

Hi Toota –

Congratulations on your new baby!  I wish I could walk right up and sniff your whole family!!

Okay, I have good news and bad news for you.  Good news first – your daughter’s behavior doesn’t show Depression, or any other abnormality.  In fact, if she weren’t acting this way, I’d worry a bit.  She is showing a healthy, normal attitude, which I’m sure will, one day, turn into a beautiful relationship with her sister.

Then the bad news:  That day won’t come soon!  For three years, your daughter was the center of the universe.  You put all your attention onto her, she delighted you with her brightness, and everything was fantastic.  Then you hit her with the greatest insult she will ever receive in her life:  You had another   child!  Suddenly, she’s getting half as much attention (or less), and she’s being told all the time that she’s not as important as she was.  Sibling rivalry is as old as mammals.  I spent my early days fighting with my brothers and sisters for our mom’s attention (and access to her “dinner plates”), Greek gods fought, Cain slew Abel, Scar killed… um… oh what’s his name, Simba’s dad?  Well, you get what I’m saying!  This is absolutely, eternally, normal.

When your daughter says, “I do not love you,” what she’s really saying is “It hurts to love you, I wish I didn’t love you so much, and I’m scared you might not love me.”  So I suggest you respond with “I’m sorry to hear that, because I love you bigger than the whole world, and I always will!”  When she hits her sister, you of course need to stop her right away, and teach her that such an act is absolutely wrong, but you also need to help her find other ways to express her anger at this horrible monster who’s taken over her home!  Can she tell you about her anger?  Can she draw it in a picture?  Can she go punch a pillow?!  Any of these are great.  The important lesson to teach her is that her anger is absolutely fine; it’s just the punching that’s not acceptable.

This anger, and a serious competition, will last for a very long time.  But bit by bit, your smart daughter will also realize that this stinky screaming brat is also a playmate, and perhaps the best friend she’ll ever have.  And one day, they’ll unify against you (hopefully in fun silly ways, like complaining about your awful taste in music – but possibly in some more serious ways, like really being defiant or rebellious).

You see, Toota, you may have only intended to create a couple of babies.  But instead, you have created one of the most powerful, uncontrollable, fearsome, glorious powers in existence.  You have created a FAMILY!!!

I’m so glad you asked me about this!  Please know that I’ll be honored and thrilled to talk about your girls any time you like!



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cute couple - September 17, 2011 Reply

just explaine to her that you love both of them and not only your new baby

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