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Sibling rivalry: How can parents handle jealousy among their kids?

While we might like to believe our babies are surrounded by joy, sometimes that’s not the case

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

From strangers giving up their seats and people you barely know wanting to touch your expanding bump, one of the upsides of being pregnant is the positive vibes you seem to get from every angle.

Indeed, on those days when you feel sick and swollen, being told you're glowing by a stranger in the mall can really give you a boost.

And while we might like to believe our babies are surrounded by joy, sometimes that’s not the case…

Often the resentment can come from closer to home.

If you already have children, chances are there’s a sibling who’s not quite as excited about the arrival of the new addition as the rest of the world might seem to be.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian recently spoke about sibling rivalry as she admitted her daughter North was ‘struggling’ to cope with being a big sister.

Son Saint was born in December and Kim, who is married to American musician Kanye West, says her three-year-old daughter still finds it tough that she has to share everything with him.

Telling Elle.com how North still wanted ‘everything to be about her’, Kim said she was trying to help her learn to accept her brother by bringing her into his room each morning to say good morning and see that the day started with her and her brother.

'I'm the big sister'

There’s a three-year gap between British dad Saqab Rasul’s two children but he says luckily there isn’t any jealousy.

Explaining how older sister Maya is very protective over her younger sister, he says he’s thrilled that they actually get on well.

He says: “The ‘I’m a big sister’, ‘Baby is coming’ type books worked well. We also got her the ‘I’m the big sister’ T-shirt to wear to the hospital and gave her gifts that Sophia had bought her. That went down well!”

In April Kim appeared on her sister’s TV show ‘Kocktails with Khloe’ and mentioned how she had stopped breastfeeding Saint because of how jealous North was.

When her sister asked about the situation, Kim explained: “North West stopped that for me. She would cry so much and try to pull him off me. She was so jealous she took her little milk box and put it in my bra with the straw sticking out and she wanted to drink while he was drinking.”

It’s a familiar story for former Dubai resident Hannah Stanton. Now living in the UK, Hannah says her two-year-old daughter Rainbow would often get jealous when she breastfed seven-month-old son Felix.

She explains: “When he was first born she had a really hard time getting her head around it. She loved him but hated seeing me breastfeed him. She used to try pulling my boob out of his mouth.”

“I’m not sure it’s jealousy. She loves her brother and doesn’t mind him getting attention except when she’s tired or grumpy. Then she’ll bite him or sit on him. I’ve tried the naughty step, I’ve tried empathizing that it must be hard for her but she needs to look after him not hurt him and I’ve tried screaming at her.

“She doesn’t seem too bothered about me now but she’s jealous when he’s with his dad. It’s like she’s written me off but daddy is her property!”

Key techniques

Empathizing with jealous children is a key technique, says Melanie Holcombe, the woman behind direction-coaching.com

As a neuro-linguistic programming practitioner she’s used to scrutinizing behavioral patterns and says: “Whatever age your children are, the most important thing you need to master is your communication with them – the words you use. For example, if you have a child and your second baby comes along and the first child is naughty, it’s important to say something like: ‘That was very naughty behavior but baby and I know that you are a good boy and a brilliant brother so what was it about?’ The reason this is better is because it shapes his identity as a good boy and brilliant brother and recognises the bad behaviour is naughty and out of character.

“Try never to say: ‘You’re a naughty boy’ or ‘a horrid brother’ because it reinforces their identity as bad and will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you want to encourage cohesion, regularly say: ‘you’re a wonderful/ thoughtful/ gentle brother’ and it is far more likely to happen!”

She may not have welcomed Rui’s siblings into the world yet but New Zealand mum Rosa Meekums is already on a mission to enforce family cohesion!

Pregnant with twins, Rosa says she is worried how two-year-old Rui will handle going from number one to one of three. She says ‘elevating his status’ as a big brother will hopefully help him take some pride in his new role.

She says: “It’s about shifting his role subtly within the family before they arrive to something new and exciting for him - a defined role that includes being kind and caring and helpful to mummy. Luckily he loves helping so I'm running with that phase right now and congratulating him every time he's helpful to me so he associates a good feeling with passing me something. Hopefully this will help him feel part of everything when I'm busy changing two nappies.”