Dr Julia Driscoll says reading her book My Story can help reduce sibling rivalry.
Dr Julia Driscoll says reading her book My Story can help reduce sibling rivalry. Terry Power

Nip sibling rivalry in the bud

I COULDN'T wait for my baby brother to arrive. As mum's belly grew, she spent time with me, preparing me for my special role as big sister.

I was given a new crib for my own baby doll which arrived for me the morning mum went into hospital.

He was so tiny and cute, with a head of thick black hair, and the nurse and my mum entrusted me with the task of giving him his first bath.

Together, mum and I would push our "babies" in their prams, bath them and feed them.

And then the jealousy set in.

One particular day, I remember doing all the naughty things my brother used to do and then running to tell mum he had done them.

I watched in wicked glee as he was punished for my crimes.

While I love my brother now, our relationship growing up was at times turbulent, filled with scratch fights and hair-pulling.

But Dr Julia Driscoll says such sibling rivalry is perfectly normal.

As seen with TV's Everybody Loves Raymond's Raymond and Robert Barone, such rivalries can have lasting effects into adulthood.

However, Dr Driscoll said such rivalry could be minimised if nipped in the bud.

"Sibling rivalry can pose a potential problem, so it's important to get it under control before it gets too ugly," she said.

The former Mount Coolum doctor specialises in pediatrics and has written an interactive book that can help to reduce sibling rivalry and smooth the introduction of a new baby.

"The story allows for parents to put pictures of their child into the story to create a photographic memoir which helps to remind the child they were once a baby, who took a lot of work and attention. It also enforces that they are loved and, despite the growth of the family, that love will not change," Dr Driscoll said.

"It helps to alter their mindset in the way they view the new baby.

"Instead of thinking, 'Baby, I hate it', they view it as a little brother or sister."

Children are egocentric and when the two people who cater to their needs suddenly have another to care for, they can become very jealous of the new arrival.

"Most little children don't have the verbal skills to articulate their concerns and will instead act out," Dr Driscoll said.

To prepare the older child for the arrival of the baby, she recommended starting as soon as possible.

"It may mean preparing the child for the fact that you will have to go to hospital, and might be away from them for the first time," Dr Driscoll said.

She said one of the best things parents could do when introducing the addition to the family was for someone else to hold the baby so the mum could give the child a big hug first. They could then meet the baby together.

"You don't want them to feel like they have been replaced," she said.

She also suggested a "big brother" or "big sister" present for the child to make them feel special and that they have an important role to play. But it's when you get home from the hospital that the action really heats up.

"Praise it when the child and baby have positive interactions and include the child in as much as possible," Dr Driscoll said.

"Make sure they know you have enough love for both and it is an equal love."

The story is available online at www.juliaschildrensbooks.com for $20.

Tips to reduce sibling rivalry

  • Don't raise your voice. The children are probably just squabbling and sometimes a directive for time apart is required. Always try to think of a solitary activity.
  • Ask yourself: "Are they tired, bored or hungry?" Those three things are enough to affect any of us in the way we view the world. Set about righting them and you will probably have restored peace.
  • Try not to directly compare siblings.
  • You don't have to treat your children the same way.
  • You have to recognise and celebrate their differences.
  • This will reduce the need to compete.
  • Make some rules and encourage children to express their feelings in words.
  • This teaches them good conflict resolution skills which they will need for later life: for example, no verbal violence or taunting.

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